15 June, 2021

The community unites to revive land and water resources

Villagers of Jarur village in Maharashtra unite to transform dry nullahs into perennial streams, and enhance productivity of land and quality of life

Leveraging the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, villagers of Jarur restore the Commons around their village
Leveraging the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, villagers of Jarur restore the Commons around their village
Leveraging the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, villagers of Jarur restore the Commons around their village
Leveraging the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, villagers of Jarur restore the Commons around their village

Located in Ghatanji block in Yavatmal district of Maharashtra, Jarur village had a good monsoon in 2020. Not only did the rains come a week early due to the pressures created by Cyclone Nisarga and Cyclone Amphan, but the village also recorded 147.4mm of rainfall in just seven days, filling the water harvesting structures built by the communities over the last few years, ensuring sufficient water availability for the village’s needs.

Journey from bad to good

This was not the case earlier. Jarur historically suffered from water scarcity. The Jarur Hiwardhara Nullah, which passes through the village and from which it gets its name, dried up during summers and villagers had to pay for tankers to get water to fulfil their drinking water requirements. The water scarcity severely impacted agriculture and livestock rearing, the two major livelihoods of communities in the region. Out of the 452 households in the village, over 300 practised rain-fed agriculture. Most farmers were forced to grow only one crop a year. The communities also faced severe fodder and water scarcity for their livestock as the village Commons (a piece of land that belongs to everyone in a community) were barren and depleted.

It was at this point that the Foundation for Ecological Security (FES), a Tata Trusts’ NGO partner, started its intervention and mobilised communities to restore and manage their common resources for improved ecological and economic benefits. Considering the importance of the Jarur nullah for recharging the community well (from which water was pumped to the overhead tank for supply to the village), the communities decided to start work to revive it. Discussions held zeroed down on repairing the existing nullah bunds on the Jarur nullah.

To enhance the planning process, Ashok Kotnake, the Community Resource Person, who was trained in the application of the Composite Landscape Assessment and Restoration Tool (CLART), used it to check the effectiveness of the structures. CLART indicated medium recharge potential in the zone and assured the communities that repair of nullah bunds would be the correct way forward. Armed with this information, the first bund was repaired, adding 13,816 cubic metres (CuM) storage capacity to the nullah. “The repair of the first nullah bund proved successful and water was available in the nullah till May. There was a marked improvement in groundwater levels and the community well had enough water to meet the household water needs till monsoons arrived.”, informs Mr Kotnake.

Encouraged by the impact, the communities decided to renovate the second nullah bund by de-silting and repairing the cracks. In 2016, the second bund was repaired, enhancing the water storage potential of the nullah by 4,653 CuM. This increased water storage also enhanced water flow to the Saikheda Dam, situated 2.5km away and to which the nullah water drained out, reiterating the importance of the ridge-to-valley approach for restoration of a landscape.

Greening the Commons

Anuj Gangwal, Sustainability team, Tata Trusts, shares, “The increased water availability in the nullah created a conducive environment for undertaking restoration work on the adjacent Commons. The communities, leveraging the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), undertook efforts to restore 338 acres of Commons (revenue wasteland in this case), after taking all the necessary permissions from the Gram Panchayat.”

About 98 acres of Commons were treated with soil and moisture conservation measures in 2020, which not only ensured continued restoration of the catchment areas but also provided the communities with much needed wage employment in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. The MGNREGS work in 2020 generated 1,640+ person-days and 3.9 lakh as wages, giving communities some respite from their financial woes. Along with trenches and planting on the Commons, farm bunding and construction of two farm ponds were also undertaken to enhance the water availability for farming activities.

Mr Gangwal adds, “While the planning and repair of the water harvesting structures as well as restoration of Commons are ongoing, FES is also working with the communities to improve water literacy and promote a culture of judicious water use. The communities have been introduced to a Package of Practices, including farm preparation, cross ploughing and line sowing, application of cow dung, composting, inter-cropping and minimum usage of fertilisers and pesticides along with preparation of natural fertilisers and pesticides such as Jeevamruth, Dasparniark, Neemark, etc. The engagement, which started with 23 farmers covering 28.6 acres of farmland, now covers 67 farmers undertaking kharif crops (cotton, red gram and soyabean) and 18 farmers undertaking rabi crops (wheat and gram) — covering a total of 100 acres of farmland, 78 acres of which is also covered under micro-irrigation practices.”

A farmer and MGNREGS worker from Jarur village says, “The work on common land and water bodies helped in improving water availability. Because of this, agriculture has improved and some farmers are now able to take two crops.”

Responsible stewardship

Working on the demand side, communities have been introduced to water games and crop water budgeting exercises, and made aware of the village’s water availability and crop and other choices that would prevent overexploitation of the common water resources.

The renovation of bunds on the nullah, coupled with other restoration activities, has had a manifold impact on the village. The Jarur Hiwardhara Nullah, now a perennial stream, recharges the community well and provides drinking water to the village round the year. The nullah also suffices for the drinking water needs of the livestock. The renovation of the bunds along with the restoration of Commons through MGNREGS provides villagers with work during the off-season.

The increased water in the nullah has helped recharge the close by farm wells, allowing farmers to take two crops a year. Members of the fishing community, called Bhoes, now fish in the check dam, enhancing their earnings. The local biodiversity is also flourishing and villagers report seeing different kinds of snakes, insects and scorpions along the nullah.

The communities of Jarur are committed to the upkeep of the nullah bunds so that their water resources never deplete again. They are well aware of the importance of harvesting and storing rainwater for meeting their needs, and have established several rules and norms for use of common resources. Cultivation of water-intensive crops like sugarcane is discouraged; communities are moving towards cultivating less water-intensive crops.

The communities are also working to further regenerate their common lands so as to become self-sufficient in terms of fuel and fodder, along with enhancing the ecological benefits like improved water flow, enriched soil nutrients, etc. The degraded common lands are being regenerated and restored in a phased manner so that the communities have access to enough grazing lands at any point in time. Once the land being worked upon is regenerated enough, it is opened for grazing and another parcel of land is closed for undertaking regeneration activities. Rules have been formed to avoid overgrazing and cutting of green trees for fuelwood. Households are being assisted in obtaining LPG connections through the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana to meet their cooking fuel needs.

The collective efforts of the communities of Jarur have brought about positive changes in the lives of all in the village, and the communities are committed towards further bettering the governance and management of their common resources for the common good of all.