India Interior

When parched fields bloomed with flow of water

Rina Mukherji | Updated on January 25, 2020 Published on January 25, 2020

A file photo of the check-dam in Raigad.

An initiative to build groundwater reserves has turned farmers’ fortunes in Raigad district

Until two decades ago, the tribal villages in the neighbouring gram panchayats of Wavoshi and Shedashi of Raigad district, Maharashtra, grew only a single crop of paddy. Meals were confined to rice and dried fish, and some local tubers, because, in spite of heavy rain, there was limited percolation owing to the basalt rocks that are characteristic of these parts.

The water would drain into the river, leaving the land parched and fallow for all dry seasons through the year. There was a major drinking water problem, too, during the dry months.

Shifting cultivation and burning of forests by the local tribals compounded water woes in the region. This resulted in women having to walk a kilometre away from their villages daily, to fetch water from the river.

 

Daya Bala   -  Rina Mukherji

 

During 1994-1999, supported by a ₹1.66-crore grant from the National Bank for Rural Development (NABARD) under its Indo-German (KFW) Watershed Development Programme, Rural Communes set about a comprehensive Integrated Watershed Development project in these parts.

In 1994-95, a 21-member Shedashi-Wavoshi Watershed Development Committee was first put in place, wherein representatives from each of the villages under the two gram panchayats were included. (The 21-member Committee, here, also has five women on it).

The project area comprised seven villages under Shedashi gram panchayat — namely, Maini, Shedashi, Maldev, Taldev, khadhi, Panshiwadi and Katkarwadi and five villages under the Wavoshi gram panchayat — including Wavoshi, Shiravli, Talashi, and Ransaahi, covering a total of 687 families.

 

Waman Wagh

 

 

The Watershed Development Committee, once formed, spearheaded drainage line treatment of the hills, with some additional contribution from the community, amounting to ₹17.25 lakh. Continuous contour trenching, check-dams, preventing loose rocks from sliding down the hills checked soil erosion and controlled run-off. Terrace bunding, or levelling, and stone bunding work was also undertaken on steep slopes.

Several other steps were taken to increase percolation and hence build up groundwater reserves. In addition to the physical work undertaken on the forest and hill tracts, horticultural crops such as bamboo and teak were planted. Agro-horticultural projects were undertaken in keeping with the needs of farmers.

In a few years, the moisture built up in the soil turned it more fertile. Fallow lands could now be used to cultivate a variety of horticultural crops. Farms too went on to grow multiple crops. A total of 1,787 acres of private land, and 400 acres of forest land were developed, covering the watersheds in Shedashi gram panchayat in Penn taluka, and Wavoshi grampanchayat of Khalapur taluka.

Kokum, cashew, et al

Choices were made taking into account the growth and fruiting span of horticultural and cash crops. A mango crop takes five years from the time a tree is planted, kokum six to seven years, cashew nut three years, while pepper (kalimiri) takes a year to fruit. Rural Communes helped farmers with their expertise in opting for the right mix to optimise on their assets, taking all factors into account. The results are evident from what one views today.

Rural Communes’ soil testing lab also helped farmers understand the nature of their soil, and the nutrient mixtures that would work to their advantage.

Take the case of the Waghs of Shedashi village. Farmer Waman Wagh and wife Aishwarya owned patches of fallow land adjoining their home, in addition to a small one-acre patch that they grew paddy on.

Today, the check dam in the vicinity has turned their fallow lands into green shady canopies. On a once-fallow 2.5 acre patch, they have planted several varieties of mango, such as kesar, alphonso, dudhpeda and langda, in addition to kokum, cashew, and black pepper. On another half-acre patch is a forest kitchen garden, where they grow jackfruit, colocasia (arvi), haldi, beans, coconut and vegetables for their daily needs. As more water became available, their one-acre farm that once only grew paddy also graduated to growing pulses and beans.

The Waghs now cultivate a variety of vegetables such as bottlegourd, beans, radish, cucumber, spinach, brinjal, tomato, and ladies’ finger, especially during the winter months, since the returns are high, and it takes only two months for vegetables to sprout from seeds. Aishwarya Wagh herself goes on to sell her produce at the factory gates in and around nearby Khalapur.

“I go there in the evening; as people leave for home, everything gets sold off,” she says. Even otherwise, farmers here regularly hire a tempo at the rate of ₹50 per 50 kg basket of vegetables to be sold at nearby Chiplun or Sindhudurg. Wholesalers too come over to pick up vegetables at regular intervals, ensuring a steady income for the farmers.

Daya Yuri Bala is a tribal farmer who used to cultivate only paddy on his one-hectare farm until some years ago. Now, with ample water, he has a hundred mango trees on his farm. Additionally, he grows kokum, palm, coconut, besides vegetables. In keeping with his tribal preferences, he cultivates a variety of local tubers such as karanda, kanak, gethi.

A polyethene lining on his 30 x 30 feet pond which is watered by a check dam has helped him set up his fishery, where he breeds tilapia for the market. The polyethene sheet checks percolation, helps store the water, and facilitates the breeding of fish here. Although the untimely rains spilling into winter this year have damaged a good deal of their paddy crop, Daya Bala and his wife Bali remain cheerful, since they can fall back on their vegetable, fruit and fish produce to sustain themselves.

Flowers fetch good price

Ram Shid of Wavoshi village, too, could grow only paddy on his five -acre farm until 1994. He has now been growing cow pea, and beans during the dry months, in addition to mango, guava, cashew and papaya. Incidentally, he is one of the few farmers in these parts who are also growing mogra and jasmine for the market. “The flowers are collected by wholesalers from my farm, and fetch me a good price,” he beams.

 

Ram Shid

 

 

The tribal farmers have lately commercialised production of their local tubers too. Kanak, chahi and the local ratalu ( sweet potato) now fetch ₹100 per kg in the markets, especially with increased interest in indigenous and organic varieties. The farmers, understandably, are laughing all the way to the bank.

The writer is a freelance journalist

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Published on January 25, 2020

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