“Water is the driver of all nature”, said Leonardo da Vinci.
Every monsoon, heavy rains flood some parts of the country and in other areas the rainfall is less than normal and forebodes lower productivity, crop loss and agricultural distress. This state of affairs need not always be the case. One can harvest the rain water and make sure that it percolates into the soil and replenishes ground water.
The accompanying pictures depict water conservation on the 14-acre campus in Awalkhed village, Igatpuri Taluka, Nashik District, Maharashtra state where the Aseema Educational Trust has established a primary school for tribal children from the surrounding villages. Despite being known as the “Cherrapunji” of Maharashtra – with an annual average rainfall of 3000 – 3500 mm – there is an acute shortage of drinking water during the summer! Since the campus had an open well which fulfilled the drinking water needs of the communities around, it was important to keep the well recharged at all times. Our intention was to demonstrate how the plentiful rain water could be conserved through the summer to sustain both the well for drinking and the fields for agriculture. This was also done in the hope that the villagers could adopt these practices for water conservation in their own lands.
The entire plot was surveyed and a comprehensive rain-water harvesting plan was drawn up. This was done by walking around and deciding on appropriate places where run-off rainwater could be harvested. Since the topography is undulating and the hill sides are steep, contour lines were marked using a theodolite and trenches/ bunds were dug along them. The bunding was done starting from the ridge to the valley. This ensured that the rainwater was harvested where it fell, and the run-off, if any, did not acquire erosive force to wash the top soil away. In the valleys between the hillocks, a series of check dams were constructed to slow down the run-off water and give it a chance to infiltrate into the ground.
Now that the earthwork has been completed and physical structures have been constructed, the next task is to plant a diversity of fast growing nitrogen-fixing and multi-purpose tree, shrub and herb species so as to make the entire area a self-sustaining ecological system producing food, fruit, fibre, fertilizer and fuel wood. A fruit orchard including species like mango, guava, jackfruit, jamun, sapota, fig, ber, etc. will be planted for the needs of the students. A small area of flat land will be planted to a diversity of vegetables, cereals and pulses.
When the rains stop, the well is recharged by subterranean streams which seem to have rejuvenated because of the water harvesting. Now there is water in the well at all times.
This has been accomplished in less than two years. As the ecosystem evolves and gets more complex, it will produce a diversity of food, fodder for livestock and serve as a habitat for birds, reptiles and insects.
Rainwater harvesting is easily accomplished if one follows the ABC’s of watershed management which are:
A: Agricultural Practices
-Plowing across the slope, to help rainwater infiltrate into the soil
-Planting a diversity of crops and creating layers in the field to intercept rainfall and reduce the impact of rain on the ground
-Mulching; to cover the soil and prevent evaporation
-Organic practices like composting, to improve the tilth of the soil
-Growing crops appropriate to the agro-ecological zone
-Planting more trees in agricultural ecosystems to serve multiple functions – windbreaks, nitrogen fixing, fuel wood, habitat for birds and reptiles, timber, etc.
-Trenches/bunds to harvest rainwater and conserve top soil
-Contour/field bunds even on seemingly flat land to prevent water from running off.
C: Check Dams
-Made at appropriate places from ridge to valley to ensure that the water “walks” and does not run off from the hill sides.
-Vegetative stabilization is necessary on the upstream side of each check dam so that the pressure of the flowing water does not damage the new construction. Bamboo rhizomes and other grasses are excellent for this.
-Check dams can be constructed entirely from materials available at the site.
-Large check dams with spillways to drain off excess water may be placed at wider ends of large gullies.
Similar work can be accomplished in all the vastly degraded areas of our country. A demonstration such as this which was accomplished with the participation of the community may also have the added effect of encouraging the villagers in the surrounding communities to do similar things on their lands. With a little effort we can convert unproductive lands into oases of productivity – a mission for a Greener, food and water secure India!
Author: K Raghavendra Rao
His interests lie in agriculture, rural development and issues concerning creation of livelihoods. He has practical ‘hands on’ experience in soil and moisture conservation through rain water harvesting and in creating organic food production systems using ecological principles. Long distance motorcycling, photography, carpentry and repairing machines are a few things that he enjoys doing. With a basic degree in engineering and a master’s in ecology, he has worked with the government, non-government, the private sector, in bi-lateral and multi-lateral organizations. A foray into agricultural entrepreneurship gave him a rich insight into the functioning of rural India. You can reach him at email@example.com
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