Agricultural development in India has undergone a radical shift in recent times. Balancing social inclusiveness and environmental sustainability was tilted to the former in the policy framework. Successive governments have looked at reforms that were concentrated on social and economic aspects as they tried to uplift small farmer incomes and derive an equilibrium in the space. Environmental sustainability was largely ignored in a sector that depended on rain-fed farming operations. About 65 percent of the cultivable land in India is dependent on rainfall.
In India, small farming operations in arid/semi-arid areas often need more productivity, high risk, and poor adoption of modern technology/agricultural practices. These areas account for almost 60 percent of farmers (the majority being smallholders). These areas contribute to nearly 80 percent of the area for pulses, 60 percent for oilseeds, and 40 percent for paddy. The importance of watershed management in these areas thus assumes primary importance.
Even as soil and water degradation are significant issues, climate change and environmental concerns grow. Water tables continue to deplete at an alarming rate as small irrigation sources must be addressed. This has led to a shortage of drinking water and a decline in water quality.
But what is the definition of watershed management?
What Is WATERSHED MANAGEMENT?
The concept of “watershed” was introduced in 1920. In simple terms, watershed refers to “water-parting boundaries.” A watershed system is an area of land draining, and the water can accumulate to a standard outlet for runoff. Water is collected in a “catchment area” from where it flows. In combination, the land and water help accumulate water at a common point. Management of this system is helpful in agriculture as it maintains equilibrium between ecosystems, land and water, and human activities. Besides acting as a buffer in dry regions, it helps to improve soil health. It efficiently stores rainwater for irrigation, thereby enhancing productivity for small farm holders by creating dependable water sources for irrigation and consumption. It ultimately collectively improves stability for small farming communities and provides security from an erratic water supply.
Different watershed systems are unique in their nature and application and will need customization in practice to be effective. This involves the management of land surface and vegetation to conserve soil and water for the benefit of the farming community and society as a whole. Rainwater harvesting is a critical component in watershed management for agriculture and sustainable development. Some of the watershed management structures are described here:
1) Contour bunds help intercept the water runoff that flows down the slope through the construction of embankments, help retain moisture in farms, and can be used for all types of soils.
2) Bench terracing refers to constructing steps on the field at different levels to help cultivation and is generally used in hilly areas.
3) Percolation ponds help recharge groundwater and are suitable for areas where the soil is porous. They also help in silt detention, and water gets augmented in groundwater collection wells for later use.
4) Check dams are vertical barriers erected against water direction on shallow rivers and streams. They are helpful in water augmentation through harvesting. Check dams holding excess water during the rainy season in a catchment area. The water held back percolates into the groundwater table and helps replenish water wells.
What are the watershed management problems being faced by rural India?
Rural India faces various issues regarding watershed management, including soil erosion, deforestation, declining water quality, and water scarcity. These issues are often compounded by unsustainable agricultural practices, limited access to technical expertise and resources, and inadequate governance and institutional support. Overuse of water resources, lack of proper irrigation infrastructure and farming practices, and changing climatic conditions also contribute to the problem. All of these issues have a significant impact on the rural population, affecting their livelihoods, health, and overall well-being. Effective watershed management strategies must be addressed to improve water resources management in rural India.
What role has the Indian government played in resolving rural India’s watershed management crisis?
The Indian government has taken several steps to resolve the watershed management crisis in rural India. Some of the significant steps include – Integrated Watershed Development Program (IWDP) – Launched in 1989, it is one of India’s longest-running watershed management programs that aim to increase land productivity and improve the socio-economic status of people living in the watershed areas.
National Watershed Development Project for Rainfed Areas (NWDPRA) – Launched in 1990, it aims to improve soil and water conservation practices, increase agricultural productivity, and raise the income level of farmers in rainfed areas.
Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) – This program provides guaranteed wage employment for 100 days to each household in a year, focusing on water conservation and harvesting works.
Swachh Bharat Abhiyan – This program focuses on building toilets, improving sanitation, and promoting hygiene practices to prevent water pollution and ensure safe drinking water.
Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana (PMKSY) – Launched in 2015, this scheme aims to achieve convergence of investments in irrigation at the field level, expand cultivable area under assured irrigation, improve water use efficiency, enhance adoption of precision irrigation, and improve on-farm water management.
Atal Bhujal Yojana (ABY) – Launched in 2019, this program focuses on the sustainable management of groundwater resources with community participation. It aims to improve groundwater management by promoting efficient and equitable use, recharge, and harvesting.
Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) – Launched in 2019, this scheme aims to provide piped water supply to all rural households by 2024, focusing on water conservation, source sustainability, and water quality.
EFFECT OF WATERSHED MANAGEMENT ON SMALL FARMERS
Small farmers are vulnerable to extraneous factors and circumstances beyond their control. Effective and resource-friendly interventions are needed to mitigate the effect on their livelihood and provide them with a secure future. Simple watershed management techniques can lead to stability and enhancement of their future incomes. Watershed management can result in increased water availability for small farmers, which will further improve . . .
a) growth rates of areas under cultivation,
b) productivity and production of major crops,
c) crop diversification,
d) crop yields,
e) livestock breeding,
f) socioeconomic factors such as reduction in poverty, food security, employment opportunities, and reduced migration; and
g) more equitable development
STORIES FROM THE GROUND: EQUITABLE DEVELOPMENT THROUGH WATER AUGMENTATION
Agricultural development in India is dependent on small and marginal farmers. Ensuring they can gain adequate remuneration and gainful employment through their efforts is imperative. The increase in demand for food in a growing nation can be met by providing them with a platform to achieve self-sufficiency and financial security. S M Sehgal Foundation, a rural development NGO in India, has been working since 1999 to improve the quality of life of rural communities in India. With support from donors and partners worldwide, S M Sehgal Foundation’s grassroots programs and development interventions have already reached more than three million people across India. One of the critical focus areas S M Sehgal Foundation has been concentrating on is water management. Some work done by their experienced and qualified team is outlined below.
REJUVENATING A POND IN VILLAGE DHODHAKARI, BEHROR BLOCK, ALWAR DISTRICT, RAJASTHAN.
Under a CSR-supported project, S M Sehgal Foundation rejuvenated the pond in the village of Dhodhakari in January 2021. Earlier, the water collection area of the pond was small and surrounded and filled with thorny bushes of keekar. The water catchment area was diminished, and large quantities of rainwater used to forcefully and wastefully flow from the Aravalli hills across and out of the village. This damaged the crops growing in the path of the water.
As part of the project, the catchment area of the pond was increased, leading to its rejuvenation, desilting, and directing the water flow toward the pond. The rainwater now accumulates in the rejuvenated pond, and its capacity has increased four times to 16.8 million liters. The water level of nearby wells for irrigating crops has also increased by ten to fifteen feet.
RECHARGE WELL IN GOVERNMENT SENIOR SECONDARY SCHOOL, KHERLA, SUPPORTED BY RIO TINTO INDIA PVT LTD
S M Sehgal Foundation and Rio Tinto came up with a low-cost, environment-friendly solution: a recharge well, which helped clear up the waterlogging in the school campus and improve groundwater levels through recharge. Addressing the scarcity of sweet water in the area, the rainwater infiltrates through the recharge well into the ground and helps recharge 1.5 million liters of water/per year. Thus two solutions were handled simultaneously through the recharge well.
Now the students and staff can avoid waterlogging because the rainwater percolates through the recharge well into the ground. The well also helps to recharge the water table, addressing the problem of rapid water depletion. The availability of water has also gone up for farming and consumption.
Public Private Partnerships are the way forward in the area of watershed management. The role of NGOs in developing watershed programs is vital because government programs have large budgets directed toward several villages. Individual issues are compromised, and this is where specific and focused interventions come in. Socially oriented organizations are the way forward to carry technical expertise to villages on a particular level. Problem areas can be identified and addressed more effectively. While it is given that watershed management is essential, what is more important is to reach the small farm holders with interventions that can carry forth the government’s vision to double farmer income. Providing them with watershed management programs that are affordable to construct and maintain can be effectively achieved through this route.