March 22, 2010 - “We no longer worry about the rains. We now have the confidence to grow alternative crops even if the monsoon fails,” said Balaraju, a farmer in one of the most drought-prone and economically vulnerable regions of Andhra Pradesh in southern India.
Last year, when large parts of the state were facing the severest drought in 30 years, Balaraju’s lands were unaffected. This is because the villagers now share groundwater, a practice introduced by the World Bank’s pilot project - The Andhra Pradesh Drought Adaptation Initiative (APDAI). Before the project, only the richer farmers had access to groundwater because only they could afford to dig deep wells. The rest, including Balaraju, had to depend on the unreliable monsoon rains to irrigate their crops.
But, convincing the richer farmers to share the water from their wells was not easy. However they agreed to do so because many of them too had fields that were far from their wells. If a pipeline was laid, these fields would also gain access to water.
In return for the water, the villagers agreed not to dig new bore wells for a period of ten years. They also agreed to regulate their water use. Farmers were encouraged to move away from cultivating high water-consuming crops such as rice to those that require less water, such as groundnuts (peanuts).
To reduce their water consumption, all farmers used sprinklers to irrigate most of their land. And, ground water was not drawn for 6 days each month. Moreover, no one person operated the system – all group members took it in turns.
INCOMES RISE SUBSTANTIALLY
With the judicious use of ground water, farmers are now able to irrigate more than twice the area than they could earlier, even during the hot summer season. Furthermore, the number of hours that water has been pumped over the past year has come down by nearly 16%.
As a result, the farmers have been able to raise their incomes several fold. This year, growing peanuts on 2.5 acres of land fetched an average of about $8000, as against about $1000 for growing rice the previous year. Farmers have now diversified into cultivating fodder and vegetable crops.
Significantly, no new bore well has been dug in the project area over the past two years, while the number of such wells in the surrounding area have gone up. In addition to conserving the aquifer, this practice has also prevented the soil and rock from compacting and sinking.
Ramakrishna, a bore well owner, is happy that no new well will come up in the area for the next 10 years. “The underground pipeline network is helping water reach even my rain-fed crops, which was not the case earlier,” he says.
ADAPTING TO CLIMATE CHANGE
The pilot project has also sought to increase the resilience of farmers to climate change. The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) which uses less water for the cultivation of rice has been introduced, and the climate-resistant local breed of Deccani sheep is being revived. Tank-based fisheries are also being improved.
With the success of this series of 19 pilots, the state government is now mainstreaming some of the innovations. When scaled up, these innovations can benefit nearly 35 million farmers in the rain shadow areas of the state, as well as in other arid and semi-arid regions of the country.