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Tue 2Sep2014

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Anicut brings Mota Mayanga village to life

By Dr Sudhirendar Sharma

With the simple construction of an anicut, the Western India Rainfed Farming Project (WIRFP) has helped transform the lives of tribal villagers living in the seriously degraded and drought-prone village of Mota Mayanga in Partapgarh, Rajasthan

Mota Mayanga is typical of many villages in the undulating terrain of Partapgarh block, Rajasthan. With a stream flowing along the village, it appears peaceful and prosperous. But the 83 households here have, for decades, lived a subsistence existence. There is water in the stream only for a couple of months following the monsoons (the area gets around 800-900 mm of rain). Most of the year it runs dry.

Inhabited by tribals, Mota Mayanga is a microcosm of widespread environmental degradation in the region. The topsoil has been significantly eroded, and, trapped in a cycle of alternating good and dry spells of rain, the tribals who depend so heavily on natural resources reflect a sad picture of want and poverty. Coupled with ecological degradation, institutional decline at the village level has proved to be the proverbial final nail in the coffin.

Over the last five years, however, a lot has changed, with the villagers moving from subsistence rain-fed farming to irrigated agriculture. This has multiplied incomes from small landholdings and stopped the migration of able-bodied men from the village. Mota Mayanga has transformed itself from a village fragmented along narrow individual concerns into a cohesive unit of 83 households that are able to fight for and protect their communal interests.

The project

The project that helped bring about this transformation is the Western India Rainfed Farming Project (WIRFP) started by the Indian Farm Forestry Development Cooperative (IFFDC) that has been working in 400 villages in Partapgarh and Ratlam with a view to providing and enhancing the livelihoods of 150,000 poor people. The £ 7.5 million the cooperative got from the Department For International Development (DFID) was spent on initiatives in 75 core villages, with provision for wider dissemination of technologies and approaches in 325 villages. The six-year project will formally end in March 2006.

Partapgarh is characterised by 8-80% sloping terrain and an average rainfall of 800-900 mm. The region experiences a recurring drought cycle once every two to three years.

Moving away from conventional land and water conservation projects, the WIRFP tackled the issue at the grassroots by engaging jankars (well-informed persons) to help plan, implement and monitor developmental activities. The young jankars were trained within the villages that are dominated by scheduled tribes, mainly bhils and meenas . Across the project villages, 671 jankars -- 32% of them women -- played a lead role in linking technologies (hardware) with social processes (software) to bring about improvements in people's lives and livelihoods.

Pitched as a project that's primarily based upon processes rather than targets, the WIRFP was implemented in 23 core villages in Partapgarh block of Chittorgarh district in Rajasthan, and 53 villages in Sailana, Piploda and Ratlam blocks of Ratlam district in the adjoining state of Madhya Pradesh. The project adopted a cluster approach to develop natural resources, diversify income options and strengthen community institutions.

Promoted by the country's largest fertiliser cooperative, the Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Ltd (IFFCO), the IFFDC has been testing the cooperative model of developing village institutions not only to manage change but also to sustain it. Though in their initial stages, primary livelihood development cooperative societies have been established in the project villages to act as institutional cushions to sustainably harvest the gains of project interventions.

For the project team, the village of Mota Mayanga represented two very basic problems -- natural degradation and societal decline. Through a series of village meetings, the villagers were made aware of their problems, what caused them and how they could overcome them.

Reviving the solitary irrigation well in the village soon became the focus of attention as voluntary labour was drawn in to de-silt it. However, there was a limit to which water from the well could extend to irrigating land in the village.

Having brought the village households together on a community platform, the IFFDC had to come up with something that would have a lasting impact on the lives of the people. An anicut across the stream seemed like a good possibility as the villagers were convinced their lives would be transformed through better irrigation facilities. A feasibility study revealed that a 45-metre-long, two-metre high anicut would cost around Rs 450,000 to build.

A Water Users Committee (WUC), comprising 11 members, was constituted to implement the scheme and also oversee its operation and maintenance. As is customary, the villagers pooled in money and other resources to generate Rs 40,000 as their contribution towards the anicut. Although at the start the committee did not levy any charges for water distribution, the beneficiary families had to arrange to lift the water from the anicut.

A system for lifting and distributing water and cost sharing has since been formalised and institutionalised. Instead of using a diesel motor to pump water, the WUC uses an electric motor. Centralising the system is not only cost-effective it's also easy to manage. Water distribution is a committee decision; anyone found violating the rules loses his/her right to water. Interestingly, the firmness with which the WUC handles violations reflects its institutional legitimacy and strength. A small incident was enough to test the effectiveness of the process. Not long ago, a benefactor broke the distribution line to secure water, out of turn, for his fields. This not only lost him his place, he was also penalised.

The WUC decided to start irrigating fields from the upper point in the village so that the water flowed naturally down to the other fields. Each member is charged on the basis of the area covered under irrigation. The electricity bill is equally distributed amongst the beneficiary families.

Anicut solidarity

Although the villagers were overjoyed with the creation of a permanent waterbody, their happiness was short-lived as water-sharing disputes began surfacing. First, people started violating the committee rules. Then, the electricity department slapped a fine of Rs 60,000 for using power without the stipulated departmental approval.

These and other problems brought about a sense of solidarity among the inhabitants of Mota Mayanga. The villagers got together and approached the electricity authorities, pleading ignorance of the rules. The penalty was subsequently halved, although the villagers still had to come up with Rs 30,000.

Each of the beneficiary families contributed Rs 1,500 towards the amount. Some took loans from self-help groups in the village, others mortgaged their land to bring in money. Some farmers sold their crop harvests early in order not to jeopardise future harvests. Once they had got the money together the villagers marched to the tehsil town to get their power connection to lift water restored.

The gains from the Western India Rainfed Farming Project are slowly beginning to unfold as surplus harvests are being reflected in improved living standards, greater access to education and enhanced livelihood security. Assured irrigation for the rabi crop has also helped put the brakes on migration.

Harvesting gains

No

Name

Member

Land

Production
(quintals/bighas)

Surplus for the market

      (in bighas) Before After  

1

Laxman

7

7

5

15

8

2

Bherulal

3

4

3

8

3

3

Dhulchand

7

4

4

17

5

4

Rakma

5

4

0

10

5

5

Karulal

6

6

2

18

4

6

Keshuram

4

3

2

8

2

Note: 1 hectare = 12.5 bighas

InfoChange News & Features, June 2005