With India becoming “water insecure”, the Union Government should provide subsidies to farmers for farmyard manure rather than chemical fertilizers such as urea to improve soil health, says  Bishwadeep Ghose, Country Head, Water For People (WFP) India.

“If the goal is to improve soil fertility, instead of giving subsidies for urea, the government should give subsidies for farmyard manure,for example, which serves the same purpose. It is much more environmentally friendly and builds soil health. It can be produced locally and be cheaper as well,” Ghose told businessline in an online interaction.  

US-based Water for People India (WFP) is a non-profit organisation which has been working in India over the past one and a half decades to provide clean water and sanitation. 

Bishwadeep Ghose, Country Head, Water For People (WFP) India.

Bishwadeep Ghose, Country Head, Water For People (WFP) India.

Crop diversification the key

Likewise, the country can produce seeds that are drought- or flood-resistant. “The biggest challenge is that of scale. How do we scale it up, even if we have a solution in one place,” he said.  

Stating that the country had changed from being “food insecure and water secure” to “food secure and water insecure”, the WFP India chief said in the rural areas the key is crop diversification, choosing crops that are appropriate for the agro-ecological zone. 

“We cannot afford to grow paddy in water scarce areas anymore. Besides using devices such as drip sprinklers can be used for water use efficiency. These can be done for supply and demand management,” Ghose said. 

Conceding that it is not easy to convince farmers to shift to other crops, the WFP Indian head said economic benefits should be provided for such a shift. 

Building digital platform

WFP has aligned with the Centre’s Jal Jeevan mission. “It is a unique programme like the Swajal (single village piped water scheme) mission earlier. It is a good opportunity for us to get aligned with what the government was trying to do because the missions were totally in sync,” said the WFP India official. 

The NGO is trying to build a digital platform to strengthen the ecosystem of micro-entrepreneurs, who will also be trained by it. These micro-entrepreneurs will carry out repairs with regard to water and sanitation. 

“We are trying to see if there is a way that these private micro-entrepreneurs can be integrated within the government system as well,” he said. 

The digital platform will work like apps such as Urban Clap, which will connect the rural household with the entrepreneur. “The digital platform will help record their transactions and tomorrow, they can avail of loans from banks showing their transactions,” Ghose said. 

Helping access funds

The micro-entrepreneurs are not considered creditworthy and they have nothing to show for their business, while there is no recognition or dignity for their labour, he said. 

This will help them to access insurance products too to further their livelihood, he said, adding that WFP, which has reached 5 million Indians over the past 15 years, is pursuing this approach actively. 

Stating that the Jal Jeevan Mission is helping to set up drinking water infrastructure, he said for rural areas, groundwater makes up 90 per cent of the drinking water source. “It is for drinking and agriculture, which consumes 70-80 per cent of groundwater,” Ghose said, adding that focusing on drinking water alone will not help unless we learn to manage the resources as a whole. 

As the uncertainty over water for drinking and agriculture increases, WFP, which has 100-115 people working for it,  is looking at all water -starting with rainfall, surface water and groundwater. 

MoUs with 4 States

The NGO, which works across 4 States besides having a coordination office in New Delhi, is working on a resilience building framework to develop “some intervention mechanism” to address water security in vulnerable areas, the WFP official said. 

On the Jal Jeevan and Swachh Bharat missions, WFP has formalised MoUs with States and district administration and has put out its own people within the system to work closely with the authorities.

 On recharging groundwater, he said one of the ways could be through supply augmentation by capturing or impounding more of the rainfall and storing it on lakes or underground.  WFP promotes rainwater harvesting too.

WFP has signed memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with 4 States in partnership with the Union Ministry of Jal Shakti (Water Resources) to work on water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) in rural areas.

NITI Aayog’s focus

“We have signed MOUs with the West Bengal, Bihar, Assam and Maharashtra governments, besides working with the National Ministry of Jal Shakti as a partner for the WASH project. If there is a policy impetus coming from the Centre, we take it to the States that we are working in,” said Ghose.

The NITI Aayog is focusing on aspirational districts, which have become aspirational blocks now. WFP pre-selects these blocks based on criteria such as poverty and water stress. 

How WFP, which is engaged in providing safe water and better sanitation to 2 billion people across the globe who do not have access to them, works on this is that it first identifies the blocks to work and then signs a MoU with the district administration. It then does a joint planning on what the priority should be and based on its capabilities, WFP directs its investments. 

Creating awareness 

 Water for People India strategy is also to create awareness campaigns on government schemes available in a local area and how they can be accessed. “We do this by working with local entrepreneurs, students or jalbandhus (friend of water), who become the interface between the community and project officials,” said Ghose. 

In Bihar, for example, WPH works with the world implementation and management committee and tries to empower the people, on the one hand, and also try to create awareness among the citizens, on the other. “The awareness campaign focuses on their rights and their responsibilities. And we have seen that if they get good quality services, they do not mind paying tariffs for the services, which is very critical for sustaining it,” he said.