Knowledge is power

“I’ve lived my entire life on the banks of the River Devnadi, but up until now, I’ve never cared to actually notice how the river and its streams flow, where the land slopes and climbs, or what the texture of this soil beneath my feet is. Water for us has always meant what’s visible to the eye on the surface. We didn’t realise how important it is to understand groundwater, and how it can help us manage our needs.”

This is a comment from Manisha Weljali, a 30-year old woman farmer from a village in the Nashik district of Maharashtra. She and nine others are being trained by TNC-India and partners to map and monitor groundwater and act as knowledge-keepers or “Bhujal Jankars.” The overall initiative is designed to demonstrate proactive drought planning strategies for communities and ecosystems.

Maharashtra has been experiencing the worst drought conditions for the past few years, impacting people and nature alike. Current policies and programmes focus on supporting communities to deal with the after-effects of drought. Given that droughts are recurring all too frequently in a world of rapidly changing climate, the need of the hour is to build the capacity of communities to proactively manage their water needs, so that they can ensure adequate water for themselves in the face of drought.

This is the premise of our drought management efforts in the state, and it requires a holistic understanding by the communities of their complete water resource, including water that is under the surface, of which they know the least.

Droughts in Maharashtra

  • 70% (approx.) area affected by drought every year
  • Negative 8% agricultural growth
  • Highest farmer suicides
  • INR 21,000 Crores spent on drought relief by Maharashtra Government between 2012 and 2016

Training the “knowledge-keepers of groundwater”

“We want to empower communities to create their own village-level water security plans which help them prioritise and plan for the use of available water, both surface and groundwater, and address demand through crop-water budgeting techniques and inclusive collective decision-making processes.” Says Sushmita Mandal, Lead, Freshwater program, TNC-India. “Groundwater is a critical source of freshwater, but because it cannot be seen, it is not given its due importance in water management strategies. Measuring, managing, and recharging groundwater is essential to address Maharashtra’s deepening water crisis.”

Our partners – Arid Communities & Technologies (ACT) and Yuva Mitra – share a common perspective on how to address the challenge of recurrent droughts. Together, we are filling a critical lacuna in local community knowledge of their water situation by training Bhujal Jankars in identifying sources of ground and surface water, land characteristics and understanding topography, soil systems, groundwater recharge points and more.

Community members participating in a training to become Bhujal Jankars or knowledge keepers of groundwater

Community members participating in a training to become Bhujal Jankars or knowledge keepers of groundwater

Understanding the composition of their land - soil type and underground rocks – to assess their land’s groundwater recharge potential

Understanding the composition of their land – soil type and underground rocks – to assess their land’s groundwater recharge potential

This will help them measure the groundwater available in the region, the groundwater recharge potential of the land, and gaps in water demand and supply. This will complement the villagers’ existing knowledge about the available surface water, and thus help them in creating integrated plans that prioritise the use of all available freshwater resource during the dry season, thereby reducing risks related to water scarcity.

Chandrabhan Khetade, a 40 year old farmer being trained as Bhujal Jankar, says, “Despite our close proximity to the rivers’ origin, we face shortage of drinking water every year. We depend on water tankers almost throughout the year, which provide us 400 litres every 8 days no matter what our actual need is. When this project was introduced in our village, I felt this was a chance to change my destiny. If I can learn the science of groundwater, I will be able to help my village manage our water sources and demand.”

Working at the Basin Level

Along with interventions at the village level, we are working with ACT and the Indian Institute of Technology (Bombay) to study the entire basin’s land characteristics. We are studying the rainfall run-off and groundwater aquifers, which will help us understand which areas of the basin need to be conserved and restored to ensure maximum groundwater recharge. Once this is done, the groundwater level will increase over time and improve the state of the river’s watershed and other surface water sources. We will also work with farmers to develop Early Warning Systems that will inform them of the likelihood of a drought in the coming season and plan their water use accordingly.

Such interventions place the communities in the leadership role to take charge of their destinies by understanding their natural resources and placing their water needs in the context of available water supplies, and helping them identify restorative measures to improve their water basin.

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