Conserving water resources
It is often said these days that the wars of the twentieth
century will be fought over water issues. With ground water table depleting
rapidly and no thought spared for rain water harvesting; alarm bells will ring
before we realise it.. Look no further than the water crisis in Chennai or the
nightmares in any hill station in India. It will immediately dawn on you that
our society is doing precious little to conserve the ground water. Sparing complacency,
however, attention can be drawn tentatively to atleast one successful experiment
with water shed management in the district of Ananthpur in Andhra Pradesh -
second most vulnerable district to desertification in India.
It is often said these days that the wars of the twentieth century will be fought over water issues. With ground water table depleting rapidly and no thought spared for rain water harvesting; alarm bells will ring before we realise it.. Look no further than the water crisis in Chennai or the nightmares in any hill station in India. It will immediately dawn on you that our society is doing precious little to conserve the ground water. Sparing complacency, however, attention can be drawn tentatively to atleast one successful experiment with water shed management in the district of Ananthpur in Andhra Pradesh - second most vulnerable district to desertification in India.
To explain the concept of rural water shed management programmes, Water shed management programme or WSMP seeks to replenish the ground water table so that rural folk can harness a wide range of secondary benefits. It was envisaged by the Planning Commission in the late 70s that holistic approach would enrich the soil nourishment thanks to the leaf litter of the endemic species of trees, provide much needed fodder, fuelwood, green manure, horticulture crops, and other userfruct products like tamarind and neem minor forest produce like herbs fruits etc to sustain the rural economy.
The SEDS started by planting up 80 acres of land that belonged to the have nots. Apart from plantations for homesteads (plantations that cater to domestic needs of villagers) and creation of fodder banks, SEDS took up contour bunding, gully checks and check dam construction to prevent soil erosion effectively. Grasses and weeds like Scianthius homata, for soil nutrition, Eucalyptus for lands contaminated with saline water and Pongamia pinnata, neem, Cassia siamia, and horticulture trees like tamarind, mango and jackfruit were planted extensively to cater to the diverse needs of the drought affected populace.
The Social Educational and Development Society (SEDS) in the Penukonda Taluq of Ananthpur district has successfully used the tools of adult education, women’s empowerment, rural employment generation and polyculture afforestation to raise the ground water table dramatically. In 1987 the ground water table in Ananthpur was at an alarming 40 feet below the ground. Today ground water can be harnessed at just 4 feet below the ground. Rajan Joshua infact stuck water at 8 feet below the ground on a hill top, which has amazed one and all.
Having started in an area about 80 acres, today, SEDS has left its footprints or tree roots and rise in ground water over 6,000 hectares across 108 villages in three taluqs three taluqs of Ananthpur district: Anandpuram, Penukonda and Pedamanthur.
Says Rajan Joshua of SEDS “our objective was to make resources available to people and then buy back their products which helps in sustaining the economy. The products we bought back and routed to the cooperative society included user fruct horticultural produce like fruits, minor forest produce, kitchen herbs, saplings, etc. An integrated approach to get holistic results like increasing supply of potable water, creation of fodder banks, fuelwood, farmers’ cooperatives, a rotating fund, through sustenance of woodlots, polyculture plantations of horticulture species and most important of all, planting endemic species gave the vital thrust for the success of our water shed management programme”. Plantations on homesteads, avenues, farmers lands, wastelands, community woodlots, orchards and barren hills have been undertaken. Protecting and rejuvenating existing community orchards (groves) with emphasis on Mango and Tamarind plantations have been propagated as community assets. Result is that today the dryland plateau of Ananthpur is a lush green table land. Over 10 million trees, SEDS claims, have been planted up in the areas where SEDS works in in Ananthpur alone.
According to Dr T V. Ramachandra of the Centre for Ecological Sciences in the Indian Institute of Science Bangalore, “Holistic approach helps in enhancement in the productivity of all components of water shed management be they grazing lands, croplands, water systems etc.
Watershed management programmes have failed in India because of shortsighted approach to expedite narrow political ends. Infact vested interests play a far more significant role than scientific approach. But Rajan Joshua of SEDS minces no words in saying “we have learnt the hard way. We do not subscribe to serving opportunistic ends. Woodlots are monocultures of eucalyptus plantations, yes, but they are meant to serve the fuelwood needs of the rural people. But it is the endemic trees that contribute to the green cover and replenishment of soil nutrition. Joshua swears by endemic trees like Azadarichta indica (neem), Pongamia pinnata or (Honge), Samoa saman (raintree) Tamarindus indica or tamarind, Mangifera indica (Mango), Syzizium Cuminii (Jamoon), and even horticulture species like jackfruit, chikoo custard apple, guava etc. Acacia auriculiformis, Acacia nilotica and Tabubia dolycondra are recommended though they are not endemic because they survive in arid zones and rain shadow areas”. They have planted grasses such as Stylocanthus hamata and Vetivera zizanioides and Thysanolaena maxima for contour bunding, gully checks and nitrogen fixing.
Dr. T.V. Ramachandra says based on soil and climatic conditions mixture of species (preferably species which cater to fuel, food and water needs of the populace) are called for”. Further, shrubs and trees also contribute to replenishment of ground water and soil nutrition and serve the interests of cattle and livestock farming. Preferred grasses and shrubs include Leucaena latisilqua, Sesbania grandiflora, Sesbania sesban, Glyricida maculata Desmanthes virgatus, Penisetum clandestinum, Panicum antidotale among others.
Collection and sustenance of fodder banks, husbanding the plantations create employment opportunities. Infact a novel means of drip irrigation adopted by SEDS utilises the the clay pots and stashes them strategically in the plant bed just under the tree sapling. A small pinhole is made at the bottom of the clay pot and a piece of worn cloth is tied to the mouth of the pot and dragged all the way to the pinhole. Women gardeners water these pots twice or thrice a day. The water drips out through the pinhole after soaking through the cloth ( the cloth slows the process of drip irrigation ). Horticulture plantations boasting varieties such as mango, jackfruit and tamarind besides custard apple and Jamoon apart from Pongamia pinnata (and other fodder yielding species) are being ‘husbanded’ by these women gardeners and they seem to have proven how hardy a specie they are in this drought prone area. The socio economic benefits of watershed management in drought prone areas have a cascading effect on the community in more ways than one: „education plays a critical role in water shed management“ says Dr TV Ramachandra.
Employment opportunities lead to socio economic benefits, Fodder, fuelwood, and animal husbandry get a boost, Creation of cooperative banking and rotation corpus fund ,Decentralised administration and democratic functioning, Captive plantations to serve the needs of the entire society and Employment generation and sustenance of the rural economy
Watershed management failed in Karnataka thanks largely to the lack of political support. In contrast, the administrative machinery and local governments in Andra Pradesh are very responsive to the attempts of NGOs such as SEDS. Watershed management has also proven successful in Madhya Pradesh. With the water crisis in Karnataka imminent, its time, we started harvesting rain water and conserve what we can of the ground water table. We are not doing anything to replenish the ground water table in any case.