Watershed Development: An Increase In Community Collaboration

In Maharashtra, droughts have historically affected agriculture, often leading farmers to plant “cash crops,” that can grow easily during a drought. While cash crops may provide temporary benefit to farmers attempting to earn money for a year’s harvest, it is at the cost of reducing soil nutrient quality for future, more profitable crops. Additionally, if crops do not grow during the drought, there is little money and no food security. Crops like sugarcane, cotton, and onions may bring in profit in a good year, but in a bad year they cannot be consumed during times of food shortage. CRHP developed the watershed program to address some of the problems resulting from droughts and low water supply in the Jamkhed area. Watershed development refers to harvesting rainwater by gathering it into a reservoir. It reduces soil erosion and runoff, conserves rainwater, and increases crop yield. Knowledge from agricultural experts has helped CRHP to work with villages on developing their own watersheds.

Graphic used to teach students about watershed development.

Strategies for Implementation

One way to develop a successful watershed is by re-developing the land to act as a better conduit for harvesting water, often in the form of trenches. There are two major types of trenches: Continuous Contour Trenches (CCT) and Refilling Contour Trenches (RCT). CCTs slow down water as it flows across the land. RCTs also slow down runoff but with the addition of trees planted within the trench to anchor down topsoil. To collect the water, a few methods tend to be implemented: 1) digging of Water Absorption Trenches, which are filled with rich black soil for water absorption, and 2) developing gully plugs, or small valleys that form a pool for the ground to absorb water. At the bottom of the hill where the watershed was developed, farm ponds collect water in a well used in the villages. It is important to keep in mind that while the techniques are the same, each watershed is developed differently based on the landscape and the resources available.

Madhu and Amol, members of the MHT, showing one of the trenches in Khandvi.

CRHP Approach & Social Considerations

Efforts for watershed development involve the collaboration of the village, which come with additional social considerations. Because land is often divided and owned by multiple farmers in a village, it can be difficult to convince farmers to come together to develop a watershed as some farmers may be skeptical of the technique’s success and legitimacy. To address these concerns, CRHP works with the community and relies on the mutual trust that has been developed since the 1970s. CRHP facilitates social auditing in each village to form a committee that will collectively commit to creating an appropriate watershed for the community. To ensure adequate representation, committees are diverse in terms of gender and caste.

To get the communities started with appropriate resources, CRHP provides technical training and ensures a support staff: engineer, hydrologist, and 2-3 social workers. Committees themselves decide how the land is used and how water will be distributed, as community participation is essential for successful implementation and maintenance of watershed development.

A woman in the village obtaining water from one of the farm ponds.

Watershed Impact: Project Village Khandvi

So far, CRHP has worked with 26 villages on implementing watershed development programs. One Project Village, Khandvi, is an exemplary model of these techniques in action. Over the course of a year, with the efforts of over 150 people, the village completed the development of 50 acres of land for watershed use. It takes normally 3-4 years to see the most progress in water levels, but the wait is well worth it. Madhu, who is both a member of the Khandvi village and CRHP’s Mobile Health Team, reported that before the watershed, the land was worth 50,000 rupees. Now, after development, the land is reported to be worth approximately 1.5 million rupees.  

Overall, as with all CRHP programs, watershed development promotes empowerment. While on its surface it may seem to only relate to higher yields of water, its social and economic impacts are far greater. The work of CRHP with watershed committees fosters collaboration across different social barriers, so that each person is valued along with the product. Additionally, with more water comes increased crop yields and more healthy livestock, food security, adequate nutrition, and more income. All of these results contribute to happier, healthier lives, which provides villages with the ability to challenge problems in other sectors of life: such as health, discrimination, and community development.

An example of various gully plugs that lead into a farm pond.

Written By: Litany Esguerra; Edited By: Annalise Tolley

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