July 2017

Rejuvenating old irrigation systems

In the drought-prone Sonambe village of Maharashtra, Tata Trusts’ intervention helped to substantially improve agricultural yield and farmers’ incomes. The initiative involved rejuvenating the old diversion-based irrigation system, introducing multi-cropping, and training farmers to use better agricultural practices.

The river Dev or Devnadi flows through the Sinnar block of Nashik district in Maharashtra state. In spite of being situated on the banks of this river, the villages here have been facing irrigation problems for their crops.

Sudham Pawar in his lush green farm
The British had constructed a diversion-based irrigation system on the river, in the latter part of the 19th century, and check dams were providing water to 14 villages, with village committees distributing water equally among the farmers. Over the years, however, the dams grew old and without regular maintenance, many of them fell into disuse. This affected the village water supply quite badly. Farmers dependent on the dams for irrigation saw their incomes reduce as their crops died for lack of water.

Sudham Ananda Pawar from Sonambe, one of the affected villages, owns two acres of land, of which  one acre is irrigated, and one is rain-fed. He grows bajra and cucumber in the Kharif season, and wheat and garlic during the Rabi season. The ravages of time had rendered the three diversion-based irrigation systems in the village non-functional, and this had a negative effect on the farmer’s income.
Eknath Pawar on his two-acre irrigated field
Similar is the story of Eknath Bhikaji Pawar, another farmer from Sonambe. He owns 3.5 acres of land, with two acres under irrigation and the rest rain-fed, and grows maize and onion during the Kharif season and wheat and gram during the Rabi season. The shortage of water through the irrigation system and the unpredictability of the rains, negatively impacted his livelihood – as it did, in fact, that of all farmers in the village.

The situation improved for the better with the advent of Yuva Mitra, an NGO. A study of the area done by this organisation led to a collaboration with Tata Trusts and the launch of the ‘Regeneration of Diversion Based Irrigation and Integrated Livelihood Development Program’ in March 2016. The objective of this project was to rejuvenate the old irrigation systems, and ensure the optimum utilisation of water through improved agricultural techniques. Initially, Sonambe and some other villages in the Sinnar block were brought under this program.

Yuva Mitra introduced the farmers to the concept of multi-crop farming. Growing different vegetables in rotation helps to maintain the fertility of the soil, controls pests, and minimises the risk. It also provides the farmer a continuous source of income year round, through the sale of different vegetables.

Both Sudham and Eknath have been eager attendees at Yuva Mitra’s training sessions, where they are able to also avail of an agronomist’s services. As part of the training, they were taken to the village of Talegaon Dabhade where they learnt how to install and maintain shed-nets, poly houses, etc. They were  also introduced to other water-saving techniques such as mulching and the use of drip irrigation.

As a result, Eknath and Sudham have both installed shed-nets on a part of their holdings, with an investment of Rs275,000 and Rs225,000 respectively. They cultivate capsicum in this area. In addition, both farmers have been given financial aid of Rs5,000 from the Trusts for setting up the mulch and drip irrigation system.

Meanwhile, the irrigation canals were repaired with the support of Tata Trusts, which helped to increase the canal’s water storage capacity and increased ground water levels. Eknath has also built a pond on his farm, which he uses to irrigate his farm. With better irrigation and agricultural practices, yields have improved; Eknath posted a profit of Rs58,000 and Sudham a profit of Rs88,000 in 2016.

The success story of these two farmers is representative of the experiences of other farmers too. In fact, this initiative, which started in March 2015 and will end in February 2018, has already positively impacted the health and well-being of 1821 families in the 10 villages covered so far.