There is nothing to distinguish Akpuri Chowki in Yavatmal district from any other village in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra. Mud huts, men toiling in the fields, women busy with their household chores, children walking barefoot on kuchcha roads, elders gossiping under the banyan tree — all bring alive images of a village untouched by the vagaries of time. A closer look reveals acres of dry barren lands, and naked hills. Water scarcity is not new to Vidarbha. In this arid region, the monsoons are the only relief, and even that is not without its dangers. As Akpuri Chowki lies at the foothills and since the villagers had not adopted any measures to stop the run-off water during the rains, a large part of the village would be submerged in the water rushing down the nearby hills.
All that changed when the Sukhi Baliraja Initiative, a Tata Trusts’ programme to alleviate Vidarbha's agrarian distress, was operationalised. In Akpuri Chowki, the project, initiated in January 2013, took the form of soil and water conservation, to improve the soil moisture content in the rain-fed area and also harvest rainwater to provide protective irrigation to the standing crop. A Village Development Committee (VDC) was formed to undertake, support and monitor the work of rainwater harvesting. In consultation with the Chetna Samaj Seva Mandal (CSSM) and the farmers, the VDC identified three watersheds in the village, each covering an area of 70 to 100 hectares.
Thirty two recharge pits were dug, one gravity-based irrigation distribution system was installed, one percolation tank was deepened to increase water storage, bunds with stone outlets to reduce soil erosion and pipe outlets to drain excess water were erected across 500 hectares, and 13 sprinkler sets and three pump sets have been distributed for the effective utilisation of harvested rainwater. A community pond, originally excavated 28 years ago by the Government, was widened, deepened and de-silted, increasing its capacity from 0.9 to 12 million litres. These water conservation measures have led to a sea change in the life of the farmers here.
The farmers say that earlier, the irrigated area was a mere 15 acres, benefitting three farmers. Now, with the Trusts’ supported rainwater harvesting initiatives, it has increased to 79 acres, benefitting 23 farmers. Also, during the rainy season, the flood waters used to bring down heavy silt, causing immense havoc in the fertile fields; now, with protective irrigation, the rainwater collects in the pond instead of flooding the village.
Suresh Landge, a farmer, comments, “Earlier, my crops used to dry out due to lack of water during dry spells or water-stress periods. Now, I can provide irrigation to the crops through these dry spells, and even post monsoon; my yield will surely increase. ”Baburao Mohade, another farmer, is hopeful that with an assured source of water, his yield of cotton will increase from 2-3 quintals the previous year to 5 quintals this year. “With the availability of water during the rabi season,” he says, "I can also cultivate diverse crops such as jowar, maize and wheat.” As farmers adopt diverse cropping patterns, there is a corresponding increase in their annual income to approximately Rs25,000 per acre from Rs12,000 per acre; this results in a significant change in their social and economic circumstances.
Rainfall is still a variable in the region, but with the Trusts’ intervention, the village has changed its way of managing water resources. The VDC meets regularly, and work is planned as per community needs. In order to harness the enthusiastic energy of the community in a streamlined manner, the Trusts are supporting CSSM to help form a Producer Company to educate the villagers on marketing initiatives to prevent them from being exploited by middlemen.