The year 2012 was yet another drought year for the Marathwada region, comprising Aurangabad and seven other districts of Maharashtra. It was a familiar story for the farmers in the region—failed crops, dying livestock and surviving on tankers for drinking water. The Year 2014 was worse. Like the other villages, Chartha and Shelud, located in the Upper Dudhana river basin, received just 297 mm, half the average district rainfall.

Yet, in 2015, there was enough water in all the wells in these two villages. And, unlike 2012, all the four hand pumps yielded water.

What changed the scene in these two villages in three years? Tushar Samruddhi!
A project, spearheaded by Nalanda Foundation in association with Savitribai Phule Mahila Ekatma Samaj Mandal (SPMESM) and other agencies, Tushar Samruddhi holds promise to change the face of agriculture in its catchment of 28 villages.

Harvesting water when available

According to Dr. Prasanna Patil of SPMESM, “Most of the farmers of Shelud and Chartha villages used to have sweet lime orchards and 90% of them were lost because of the drought. The villagers could not feed or provide water to the livestock.” The villagers were resigned to buying about 200 tankers of water every year, just to meet their daily needs.

Fifteen years ago, the government had built 47 weirs to regulate the flow of the river and to boost ground water levels. However, over the years, the structures were neglected and instead of being held back by the weirs, the water would just flow through leaving the land thirsty as always.
In 2014, Tushar Samruddhi took up five weirs on a pilot basis. The structures were repaired. Scientific deepening and strengthening of the reservoir increased the water storage and, consequently, the recharging capacity of the weirs.

As a result of this effort, the storage in these weirs increased by 29,000 cubic meters. Much to the relief of 450 households, this resulted in the ground water recharge of 143 million litres of rainwater. Fifty-nine ponds held more than 100 million litres of water to ensure critical irrigation of the farms.

The results were immediately visible in 2015. Despite a prolonged dry spell, both the villages were able to provide critical irrigation to their crops across 300 acres. The four hand pumps in the villages, which usually ran dry for at least four months starting March every year, were now supplying water without a break.
For Sangeeta Choudhri and the other women of the villages, this was a huge burden off their back. “It would take me four to five hours every summer to fetch water for my family. Now, I can easily get water from the pumps. And we do not have to wait for the tankers. ” said Sangeeta.”

The Tushar Samruddhi team studied the impact on 28 observation wells, compared to neighbouring locations, not served by the restored weirs. The water table increased up to 1.5 metres and recharge was faster in the impacted wells in comparison to the neighbouring wells.

Making the most of available water

In the second phase of Project Tushar Samruddhi, the task was to educate the farmers about modern farming techniques to increase yield while making judicious use of available water.

For farmer Krishna Bochare, an orchard in his four acres had always appeared to be a dream, never to be fulfilled given the drought. Now, emboldened by the good water level in his new well, Krishna has planted pomegranate on 1.5 acres and installed a drip irrigation system for efficient water management. “Previously, I would earn just about ₹ 1 lakh from the farm. I am now hoping to cross ₹ 3 lakhs in income in the future,” Krishna said.

Krishna was among the 11 farmers who were taken by the Tushar Samruddhi team to the National Research Center on Pomegranate in Solapur to study modern techniques of pomegranate farming. The farmers have also started using vermi-compost to enhance the carbon content of the soil for better pomegranate yield. Presently, the area under pomegranate cultivation has increased from 43 acres to 450 acres.

Wheat too has benefitted from the Tushar Samruddhi initiative. The simple step of reducing the width of the furrow from 3 metres to 2.5 metres resulted in a 20% saving in irrigation water. Adaptation of scientific techniques increased wheat yield by 20%.

Farmers have also started cultivating vegetables, which was once considered impossible under the constant threat of drought.

2017 scenario

Until August 2017, rainfall in the region has been dismal. It began with a bang in June, which was followed by 45 days of a dry spell save occasional drizzles. Though the middle of August brought moderate rains, 2017 appears to be another rain-deficient year, with only 225 mm recorded against the expected 600 mm. Gajanan Saikhedkar of SPMESM, also a co-ordinator for Tushar Samruddhi says “In other villages, 45% of the crops have failed. Poor rains have affected Chartha and Shelud also, but the impact is considerably less thanks to better availability of water. In these two villages, we expect to get 70% of Bajra, 80% of Maize and 80% of Cotton. Pomegranate has been doing well. Importantly, we have not had to call for a tanker either for drinking or for irrigation. People from other villages can be seen walking long distances for water.”

Farmer Ganesh Bochare adds “The rains have not been good this year. My well is about 600 metres from the weir and yet I have sufficient water in the well. I expect to get about 70% of my cotton and maize. Thanks to drip irrigation, my pomegranate has been doing well too, in spite of the dry spell. Unfortunately, my relative who has his farm in another village, which does not fall under Tushar Samruddhi is likely to lose about 75% of his crop because of poor rains.”

An inspiring model

Delighted with the success of this model, Sanjay Joshi of Nalanda Foundation said: “It is heartening to note that the success of Tushar Samruddhi has encouraged other organisations to pitch in. The community has also taken ownership of maintaining the weirs. In June 2015, one weir was repaired entirely by the villagers themselves. We look at this as successful model that deserves to be replicated in the rest of Marathwada region. Indeed, it can be adapted for every village in India, which is under the lingering shadow of drought.”

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