A primarily agrarian society, the farmers found it difficult to farm their land because the soil was extremely saline. The texture of most saline soils fluctuates from silt clay to clay. Preparing the land is difficult as the soil dries out, and deep, wide cracks develop. The hydrological situation caused by extreme salinity also restricts normal crop production, leading to low crop yield. Extensive cultivation of a particular cultivar year after year made the crop susceptible to pests and diseases. All this leads to a very penurious existence, and the people here have barely enough to meet their basic needs.
A 6 km kacha (mud) canal, estimated to be approximately 100 years old, is situated about a kilometre away from the village. The canal is damaged and cannot store water. Strengthening and restoring this canal, as well building a new canal on the River Gomati will prove beneficial to the farmers. Repairing the existing structure will prevent water leakage. The new canal will increase the area of irrigation, and thereby the use of land, by over 30 per cent. New agricultural practices could be developed, and the farmers would also be able to grow winter crops.
It took Tata Chemical Society for Rural Development (TCSRD) and the Coastal Salinity Prevention Cell (CSPC) two years to explain the need for proper irrigation facilities as well as the necessity of strengthening the Gomati canal to the farmers, and to convince them that the company wasn’t going to utilise the canal water for its own benefit.
The irrigation department of the Government of Gujarat, TCSRD and CSPC believe in participatory management. The project, therefore, needed both the support of the people, and their contributions so they would ‘own’ the project. The villagers resisted – they believed it was the government’s responsibility to build a canal.
TCSRD and CSPC began social mobilisation, training, exposure visits and meetings with the beneficiaries. Technical surveys were conducted with a participatory approach; irrigation experts undertook site visits. Collated data was submitted to the irrigation department, and meetings were held with the local MLA and other leaders. TCSRD has also linked farmers with other network groups and the farmers’ federation.
The estimated cost of rebuilding the canal was approximately Rs.1.3 crore. Farmers contributed Rs.1.5 lakh at the rate of Rs.500 per acre as a one-time cost towards the canal construction. The irrigation department contributed Rs.45 lakh, while the Trusts provided Rs.61 lakh. The remaining amount was contributed by TCSRD.
The irrigation department first deepened the dam so its storage capacity was increased from the original 47 M Cu. Ft. The canal now provided water to 103 farmers (previously 73 farmers), and irrigated 300 acres (previously 100 acres).
While this alleviated the water situation, it also introduced new problems. Water access became a source of contention, with police being called in several cases. “One would hoard water, while the other would either wait forever, or steal it,’ says Popatbhai Vasrambhai Parmar, the secretary of the Gomati Kisan Group. “Crops were destroyed either because of excess water or no water at all.” But now, the irrigation department allots water according to need, and records the water accessed by each farmer. “The department generates the bill according to consumption, and we pay accordingly,” states Popatbhai.
Proper planning and distribution of water has helped farmers to cultivate more than one crop per year. Earlier, dependent on the rain, they grew groundnut or millet. Winter passed in idleness.
Today, with the knowledge of new farming techniques, they grow groundnut, watermelon, coriander seeds, cumin and wheat besides the regular crops. Where ploughing the land with bullocks took a month, a tractor does the same job in a day. ‘Groundnuts took a month to harvest manually,” says a beneficiary “Today, an opener (a harvesting machine) does it in a day.” Sprinklers are used to irrigate the land, and production has increased by 20 per cent. An acre of land now produces 10-12.5 quintals of groundnuts, where earlier, they barely managed to cultivate 5-7.5 quintals.