For lasting development impact, innovative ideas need first to be tried and tested through piloting over a small area, closely monitoring the results, building in improvements, sharing the experience with others, replicating the idea in different contexts, and finally scaling it up over a larger expanse. Increasingly, it is those innovations that create new linkages—between people, information, and technology—which make that critical difference on the ground.
This in a way sums up the efforts that were undertaken in the Andhra Pradesh Drought Adaptation Initiative (APDAI) – a World Bank project that identified a menu of 19 pilots for taking up adaptation measures in the districts of Mahbubnagar and Anantapur – among the most chronically drought-prone and economically vulnerable areas of the state.
These pilots sought to enhance the adaptive capacity of rain-fed farming systems to climate variability through optimal use of water, Diversified Farming System, System of Rice Intensification (SRI), Deccani breed improvement in sheep and institutional reforms and improvement in tank-based fisheries.
Small wonder then, last year when large parts of Andhra Pradesh were facing the severest drought in three decades, Chellapur village in Mahbubnagar district of Andhra Pradesh – about 150 km from Hyderabad – was unaffected. The villagers, through this Project, tried out a unique initiative of sharing groundwater by pooling borewells, bringing cheers to both—farmers owning borewells and those who do not have access to them. Not so long ago, this village, like many others in this drought-prone area, used to face frequent drying of borewells due to overexploitation of groundwater.
“We no longer worry unduly about rains. We have the confidence to grow alternative crops even if there are no rains,” said Balaraju, whose family owns 10 acres of land in this water-scarce region.
The groundwater pilots aim not only to introduce collective management of groundwater but also to move away from high water consuming crops (read paddy) to cultivation of crops requiring less water and to protective irrigation of rain fed crops. Combined with sprinklers, the shared pipeline system allows, in principle, for a larger area to be irrigated with a smaller amount of water – this being very much the dividend of introducing micro-irrigation methods. At the same time, rules are agreed upon with regard to use of groundwater that includes a ban on new wells being sunk within a ten year period, a reduction of paddy, and regulated use of the connected borewells.
Impact on the ground
In Chellapur, it not only led the five farmers who had borewells, to judiciously use water to cultivate crops in 48 acres, but enabled them to move away from high water-consuming paddy crop. At the same time, their incomes went up substantially as they grew groundnut in a larger area.
Under the pilot, five individual borewells were connected through a 1.7 km-long pipeline network and two of the farmers, who did not own borewells, were allowed access to the system. While the farmers earlier used to cultivate three acres of paddy in kharif and 5 to 6 acres of the same crop in the rabi season, stopped cultivating paddy in rabi and instead grew groundnut in 14 acres. Overall, the income of the farmers went up several fold as groundnut fetched them Rs. 4 lakh in the last season, against the average of Rs.50,000 when paddy was grown during the same season in the past.
Convincing farmers to share water was not an easy task. The rationale used was to move groundwater out of the individual into a community domain, and at the same time use it for less water demanding crops that could bring equal or even increased economic return for all those participating in the water sharing scheme. The incentive for individual borewell owners to give up exclusive access and join the collective system helped reduce the risk of facing the vagaries of climate change. Instead, farmers can now irrigate rain fed fields that are distant from the borewell, but can be connected through the pipeline system.
Ramakrishna, one of the owners of a borewell in that area said what appealed to him most was that allowing access to his non-borewell neighbors would ensure that no new borewell would come up in that area in the next 10 years. “Moreover, the underground pipeline network is helping water reach even my rain-fed crops, which was not the case earlier,” he added.
With the success of the pilots, some of the measures are now being mainstreamed into state government schemes. When scaled up, APDAI could benefit nearly 35 million farmer communities in the rain-shadow areas in the state as also other arid/semi-arid regions in the country, said A. Ravindra, Director, Watershed Support Services and Activities Network (WASSAN), also the lead technical agency of the Project.