Decentralised Surface Water Harvesting Structure as a Viable Irrigation Model: The “Bhagirath Krishak Abhiyan” in Dewas district of Madhya Pradesh brings in a new dawn in the history of modern India by way of bringing in a movement to restore rainwater by creating more than six thousand farm ponds in Dewas district built by the people using own resources. The farm pond is a traditional AWM solution in the region. The solution which started in Dewas district is already being implemented in many other districts as well and has demonstrated long-term sustainability and added-value.
Dr Vivek Sharma, Chief Functionary, Centre for Advanced Research & Development, Bhopal
Viable Irrigation Model, Ground Water, Water Harvesting Structure
Dewas district is one of the 12 districts which form the Malwa region of Madhya Pradesh facing acute water scarcity problems. It has an annual average precipitation of around 1200 mm. Conscious of the problems of farmers in the region, the district administration stressed on the harvesting of rain water as possibly the only solution to overcome water woes of the district. The administration emphasized on the construction of cost effective and locally managed individual rainwater harvesting structures. This approach to water harvesting was given the title of “Rewa Sagar”. The program started in the year 2006 with the district administration approaching initially the relatively bigger farmers (with more than 10 acres of agricultural land) and in persuading them to allocate 1/10th to 1/15th part of their land for construction of a tank which could store runoff water during the monsoons and thereby assure the availability of required water for irrigating during the Rabi (dry) season. The farmers could also use part of the stored water for providing life saving irrigation to even Kharif crops during the occasional long gaps that may come across between two rainy days during monsoon season as well.
The western part of Madhya Pradesh, especially the Malwa region has been suffering from severe water crisis since the eighties. The insufficient management of surface water for irrigation has led to high exploitation of ground water. In the absence of any significant efforts having been made in recharge of groundwater, the areas are changing fast into dark and grey areas projecting serious challenges not only to the agro based livelihoods of the region but also for the basic domestic needs putting food security and the development of future generations at risk.
The immediate cause could be attributed to the large and medium farmers trying to bore deeper each year to irrigate and in turn further depleting the ground water level. The situation in Dewas district of MP was pathetic with even noted cases of transportation of drinking water by trains. So when Mr. Umakant Umrao, IAS an Engineer by education (hailing from a rural farming background) was posted as District Collector in Dewas in 2006 he was very apprehensive of finding a sustainable solution to the problem. He was aware that small watershed Based approach through a stakeholder management process is the only envisaged solution as large scale irrigation projects had never been able to deliver more than 40 percent of the projected results.
The young district collector in his frequent visits to rural area explored location specific intervention strategies, until one day he came upon a farmer who agreed to do insitu water harvesting by digging a medium size pond (talaab) in part of his farm and irrigate the remaining land. Implementing the first case was extremely difficult without any enabling environment. However once the talaab was completed, water harvested and the resultant high agricultural production and profit of Rs 4 lacs in the first year was sufficient to wipe out the investment. The decentralized surface storage structures as a viable irrigation system was established.
The equation was simple that a pond based irrigation management system (investment in water) means high profit, low risk, high replicability and higher asset value. The ground water recharge, increase in sustainability of natural resources, low energy consumption and bio-diversity had a supplemental impact on the ecosystem.
The biggest challenge was convincing the farmers, arranging for the financial resources, arranging for the infra support, user friendly technology and finally mobilising the chronically underperforming delivery mechanisms (the bank and other government development extension systems) to actively support.
A strong convincing case of profit model with early break even was projected for the farmers by the well motivated team of experts who were personally trained by Mr Umrao and handed with simple IEC material prepared in local dialect designed with specific inputs. The momentum picked up when farmers began to see successful models.
Though lot of emotional quotient was added the process was very strategic. Instead of preaching for sacrificing personal economic gain for the larger national or social benefit, it was a challenge to change the approach and earn profit by harvesting water. The programme envisaged an extremely sustainable model with a ‘win-win situation’ for all stakeholders. Over the period of a year each farmer became a motivator himself and soon several hundreds of role models were created, who took vow to cease bore wells and helped extend ‘Rewa sagars’ beyond their boundaries.
There are now more than six thousand talaabs in Dewas district alone, and the number is ever increasing. The impact can be calculated from the fact that total of all irrigation efforts by the Government/ Individual since independence brought an additional 3% growth in 50 years with assured irrigation whereas this movement increased such percentage by 12% in 5 years. The effort has won 5 National Awards for augmenting ground & surface water.
The Water level which had gone down to 500 to 600 ft in the area has come up significantly. The decentralised surface storage structures have supported the other systems like wells and bore wells and thereby completely mitigating drought in the area in cases of failure of the monsoon.
The practice of digging open wells by small and marginal farmers due to low water level was discontinued long back in Malwa. Open wells are now back and 733 wells have been constructed under Kapildhara scheme in Tonk khurd tehsil of Dewas alone since 2007. The small farmers have got back their due.
Agriculture has diversified and farming systems have improved and farmers have shifted from Soybeans based mono crop to kharif, rabi and zaid (multi) cropping.
Multiple livelihoods including dairy and fisheries have evolved and the employment days and minimum wages have gone up for the individuals.
It has been noted that quality cattle breed has been introduced and milk productivity has increased up to 34 pc within a short period. Increased availability of vegetables, fish, milk and increased production of food grains has resulted in perceptible change in nutritional levels.
Improved biomass has bettered the quality of livelihood for farming families. The women who earlier suffered from the drudgery of fetching water could now actually contribute to the family’s growth. The enrolment ratio in schools has been much better. More over pucca houses have replaced the old kutcha structures.
The movement is self replicable and has spread into several districts of Madhya Pradesh. More than twenty five thousands of visitors from across the country have come to witness the success of Rewasagar movement, and they include farmers, women groups, government officials, students, media personnel, policy makers, development planners and activists.
Initially started in Dewas district the movement has now spread in more than 15 districts of Madhya Pradesh covering 450 villages. The total rural population benefited is around two lakh which includes schedule castes, schedule tribes, small & marginal farmers, besides the traditional farming community of Malwa.
The Bhagirath krishak farmer’s movement (a movement to augment agriculture water solution) initiated by the Dewas District Collector, Mr Umakant Umarao to overcome the existing water scarcity in the region became a self replicating model due to his commitment and passion transforming each farmer into a motivator. Since this was a profit based irrigation model participation of farmers was self initiated and it soon became a people’s movement. There was a big group of Bhagirath farmers, district officials and self motivated individuals who are the co authors of this success story, but to name a few, these names strike out;
Bhagirath Farmers: Vikram Patel, Devendra Sing Khinchhi, Hukum Singh Kalma, Raghunath Singh Tomar, Pop Singh, Prem Singh Khinchi, Davender Singh Khinchi, Vikram Panwar, etc.
Govt Officials: Yogender Giri (Agriculture Engineer), Mohammad Abbas (Agriculture Extension), Hari Singh Jat (Agriculture Extension).
Woman farmers: Laxmi Kamal Chandravanshi (Chirawad), Smt Tara Bai (Gorwa),
NGOs: CARD first highlighted it during an evaluation in 2008 and recommended it for state level ‘Jal Mitra award’. Later as a part of AWM solution project CARD has been promoting the solution at the state and national level. CARD along with IWMI has conducted an impact assessment study of the rewasagar movement in Dewas.
Vibhawari is the other NGO which has been associated with the movement from the beginning.
Detailed information of so many associates is not possible but these can be contacted by name through the District Collector, Dewas.
The objectives set for the success of the Bhagirath Farmers movement (mission) were:
To provide an affordable decentralized Surface Water Conservation cum Harvesting Structure as a Viable Irrigation Model.
- The initiative would be a simple business model with economic profit as end result and early break even.
- To evolve a complete integrated and user friendly package with problem identification, education and awareness, area planning, resource mobilisation and infrastructural support.
The equation was simple that a pond based irrigation management system (investment in water) meant high profit, low risk, high replicability and higher asset value. The ground water recharge, increase in sustainability of natural resources, low energy consumption and bio-diversity had a supplemental impact on the ecosystem. Still the initial challenges were:
to convince the farmers to contribute a part of their land for an irrigation tank or talaab,
- arranging for the initial financial resource,
- arranging for the infrastructure support and machinery to carry out the physical work,
- easily available design and technology and
- Finally mobilising the chronically underperforming delivery mechanisms (the bank and other government development extension systems) to actively support.
It started as a self financing model wherein Rs 2 to 5 lakh were spent on an average tank. Realizing the success of Rewasagars the State administration also jumped in to help scale up the program in the entire State through implementation of water harvesting ponds (Khet Talab and Balram talab schemes). Following the traditional government approach to scaling up, the State announced a subsidy of up to Rs 50,000 for farmers building such water harvesting structures. Subsequently the maximum amount of subsidy was enhanced to Rs 80,000. The subsidy is between 10 and 20 percent of the total cost of a farm pond. This has resulted in both accelerating as also slowing down the scaling up of the program.
The extension idea was to educate the farmers on advantages vis-à-vis disadvantages of tube well and pond. Obviously the pond based irrigation scores over depleted deep well based tube well. But this had to be translated in a simple and rustic language. Handwritten letters were distributed to farmers to give a personal touch to the idea to sell Pond-based AWM (Agriculture Water Management) system. IEC and dissemination of new concept was made by arranging master trainers (which were farmers only) There was no structured module of training rather it was simply an evoking mechanism which prompted the farmers to calculate the water economy.
Once farmer accepts this model the technical help of machinery, credit linkages were helped by the district administration as every farmers needed technically different kind of structure. A cell was set up at the district level which functioned twenty four hour to help the adopter farmers with all the formalities. Many times acceptance of concept is more dependent on the propagator himself. Seen the enormity of the problem and psyche of the masses the early adopter among the farmers were projected as role models and for further movement they themselves become leaders.
The Bhagirath Krishak/ Rewa sagar scheme was initiated by a highly motivated individual officer and propagated by the official machinery but of late it turned into a people’s movement. Farmers irrespective of caste participated in the movement. Although the scheme initially targeted large farmers, however subsequently small and medium farmers also came forward to construct tanks in their fields. The component of self finance makes this movement entirely owned by the community and for the community. Banks did provide loans to scale up and give pace to the movement. Initially started in Dewas district the movement has now spread in more than 15 districts of Madhya Pradesh covering 450 villages. Immediate and ensured returns mean the movement will not stop and rather it will go beyond the administrative boundaries, and this is very well scoped by the number of farmers who visited for exposure of Rewa sagar scheme and the ever increasing number of such water harvesting structures coming up in other parts of the state.
The inherent strength of the model was own investment by the farmers but to facilitate the process the bankers were persuaded to come forward with loans. The pond was never looked as a water body stand alone, rather it was looked as an Agriculture Water Management Solution and the nucleus of this solution was individual farmer. The philosophy of water management was changed from a hypothetical community/ social service to an individual enterprise. The investment made by the affluent farmer on their own land resulted in direct irrigation to them and recharging of ground water, revival of wells and moisture conservation benefits the ‘lesser haves’ and the region prospered.
The implementation of the program by district administration was mooted in public-private partnership mode with public agencies providing the technical and logistic support and individual farmers utilizing their land and personal (including financial) resources for construction. The district administration ensured smooth flow of technical support and credit linkages with the help of government officials and banks. The skilled and cost effective man and machinery was mobilized by district officials from neighboring province which otherwise not available in district. The district administration intervened to negotiate construction charges and ensure that the farmers do not get cheated. Mr Umakant Umarao personally
The main points of approach/ strategy which made this programme a success are as follows:
- Role model theory. A role model farmer, not necessarily rich should have surpluses in the form of land, money, risk bearing capacity and should be open to ideas.
- Individual situational analysis process
- Seeking solution rather giving prescription
- Selling Profit, rather than human security profit as carrier
- Creating trust and faith in leadership
- Realizing them the economics of water vis-a vis investment
- Realization of future water scenario and responsibility vis-a vis next generation.
- Customized solution, Inclusive growth
- Sustainable resource linkages and Coordination.
The movement is self replicable and has spread into several districts of Madhya Pradesh. More than twenty five thousands of visitors from across the country have come to witness the success of Rewasagar movement in Dewas, and they include farmers, women groups, government officials, students, media personnel, policy makers, development planners and activists. Many of them take pledge and once they go back, become the Bhagirath farmer of their villages/ Dewas and start motivating others. The Bhagirath farmers and Rewa Sagars are today multiplying without any external effort and have spread beyond the administrative boundary of Dewas district into Ujjain, Shajapur, Dhar, etc. An estimate puts the figure beyond ten thousand water bodies. The Jiladeesh (District Collector) is still fondly remembered by the farmers as the Jaladeesh (The Water God), who transformed the lives of thousands.
As Director, State Watershed Mission (from 2009 till date) Mr Umrao, the initiator has brought his learnings of Rewasagar movement in to State level watershed/ water schemes planning. Public Private Partnership in Watershed Management was the first such initiative which opened the gates for Corporates for partnership in Watershed Management. The associates include leading Corporates such as ITC, Hindustan Uni-Lever, Hindustan Electro Graphide, Mahindra & Mahindra, Grasim, Jain Irrigation, Oriental Paper Mill, Coromandal Cement Ltd, etc. the other initiative is the River Revival Programme to revive and replenish the rivers. The programme aiming at revival of small streams of main rivers through intensive watershed conservation works has been taken up for sustainable agriculture growth by the government of Madhya Pradesh with government, private and NGO support.
- Dr Vivek Sharma,
CF, Centre for Advanced Research & Development,
H-2/ 195, Arvind Vihar, Bagmugalia, Bhopal-462043
Tel.No: 0755-2481234; Fax: 91-755-2481165
- Mr Umakant Umarao,
Director Watershed Mission, Government of Madhya Pradesh,
D-2/3, Char Imli, Bhopal (M.P.)
Tel. No.: 0755-2468995 O: Fax No.0755-4082614
- Mr Mohammad Abbaa,
Assistant Director, Agriculture,
Jila Panchayat, Dewas
The list of all enclosures and support materials accompanying the nomination:
1. Impact assessment study conducted by International Water Management Institute (IWMI)
2. External verification report by Centre for Advanced Research and Development
3. AGWATER Solutions published a brief on Rainwater Harvesting in Madhya Pradesh
4. Photographs of rewasagars