How WOTR tackles rural poverty with watershed development

In many rural parts of India, areas heavily dependent on rainfall often face water scarcity, ironic as it may sound. During monsoons, many places can receive effective rainfall for up to about 45 days, especially in Peninsular India.

Crispino Lobo, program director and co-founder of Watershed Organization Trust (WOTR) says that in many areas, especially those that are not prone to drought, the only way to increase water supplements is to “recover every drop of rain that falls, on the geographies on which it falls ”.

This can be done through watersheds, which are areas that drain into a specific body of water. the rainwater collected in watersheds supplies water to several streams of streams, which eventually join a river.

When these water bodies are located in areas that can thrive through agriculture, it can have a significant impact on the livelihoods around the area.

This thought led Father Hermann Bacher to launch the Indo-German watershed management program in India in 1989. He wanted to reduce poverty and build a sustainable watershed development program. Crispino Lobo accompanied him on this mission, which then helped him to Watershed Organization Trust (WOTR) in 1993.

Watersheds preserving rain and soil

When it rains, the water rushes down the hill and merges into the streams that form streams. While some of it flows into streams, some goes to other parts of the villages and sinks underground to restore soil moisture, which is essential for the growth of plants and trees.

“Water also replenishes underground aquifers, which can be exploited with wells and boreholes. While watersheds collect water from the surface, the main idea is to slow the flow, ”explains Crispino.

On the surface, some of the the water conservation and storage are done through dams, urban bunds, etc., and other hydraulic structures on rivers and streams.

Likewise, soil conservation measurements start from the top using continuous contour trenches, water absorption trenches, farm bunds, compartments bunds, and other earth work which control the speed of rainwater and prevent soil erosion.

A pictorial representation of the problem WOTR aims to solve (above) and how the NGO is solving it (below) | Image: WOTR

“But to increase these soil and water conservation measures, the rain hammer effect that causes erosion must be stopped. This can be done effectively with the help of a canopy. Leaves can break down the speed and kinetic energy of rain, ”says Crispino Social history.

Some of the water flows, some comes out of the watershed, but indeed, the damage is reduced. So this water becomes available both for soil, agriculture, and for humans and animals.

Crispino notes that for rural India this is a excellent development technique because regions depend to a large extent on rain and agriculture for survival and sustenance.

Watershed Development Organizations Trust

WOTR’s work has started in Maharashtra, a rain-fed part of India, where only 16 percent of it is irrigated and a third is seen drought prone, according to Crispino, who further notes that this is a similar fate for most states in the country.

“Our idea was to organize rural communities to trap rainwater through the watersheds in which they lived, by regenerate their environmentHe said, adding: “Not only will we improve the quality of life of the people, but we will also improve agriculture, rural livelihoods and help people break the cycle of poverty.

But for development to have a large-scale impact, it was necessary to form a coalition of NGOs, government organizations such as NABARD (National Bank for Agricultural and Rural Development), and other like-minded thinkers to organize and help rural communities regenerate environmental spaces.

WOTR was ultimately created for four reasons – practice and Implementation watersheds, policy development with decision-makers to scale up the project, and capacity building and Knowledge management to research what works and what can be done to improve communities.

Improve agriculture

Thus, once their water needs are satisfied, rural communities consider using watersheds for agriculture.

“We got into agriculture and the whole range, including soil preparation, plant identification, seed treatment, planting and cultivation practices, cleaning, storage and harvesting of crops. products, including placing on the market by setting up farm producers’ enterprises (OPAs). ), ”Crispino says.

But soon, when water was available, some unsustainable practices emerged. Hundreds of boreholes were dug around a watershed, there was indiscriminate use for breeding and irrigation, and groundwater was overexploited for crops such as sugar cane which have high requirements.

All of this has led communities to return to square one within five to eight years.

So, unless the demand was managed, the practice would continue to be unsustainable. When is it WOTR also switched to water stewardship, which creates an attitude and instill good behavioral practices in communities to treat water as a precious and scarce resource.

Farm management practices

Stewardship involves water budgeting, changes in the cultivation model and crop planning, adoption of new technologies increase water productivity, reduce waste and fill gaps and put in place locally defined, managed and enforced rules to ensure that water is used productively and wisely.

This program now has extended to hundreds of villages across India, where WOTR is raising awareness about sustainable farming practices, water conservation and budgeting.

But climate change is becoming a concern. Rainfall was variable, something farmers were not used to over the years. This affected livelihoods and raised the big question of whether the challenge could be overcome.

“So we turned to climate change, adaptation, water resource management, agriculture, adaptation and biodiversity. Biodiversity is a common thing and in all these areas; we have decided to group our activities under what is called ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA), says Crispino.

With several ecosystems such as wetlands, arid areas and others, WOTR addresses the challenges of climate change as well as the food, nutritional and income security needs of a community. All the organization’s interventions are grouped together in this framework EbA.

Women’s empowerment and livelihoods

Cross-cutting to all these interventions is the emphasis on empowerment of women, institutional development, governance and capacity building.

“80% of agricultural work is done by women and people in rural India. For their livelihood, rural households depend on the resources of the local environment. So if the environment thrives, the community thrives, ”says Crispino.

A woman digging bunds

“Thus, indirectly, women hold the key to regenerating the environment and managing it in a sustainable manner,” he adds.

Aligning with their motivation of empowering women, WOTR organized 249 training sessions, six training workshops on gender and contributed to the activation of more than 1,200 SHG with more than 4,000 women, among other activities.

“We also promote many agricultural and non-agricultural businesses and livelihoods such as sewing, food processing, welding workshops, Kiranas, poultry and dairy products. These allow people to earn money in addition to main farm income, even as an independent business, ”says Crispino.

Impact and way forward

Bhojdari is a village in Sangamner Block of Ahmednagar District in Maharashtra, India and receives relatively less precipitation than about 550 mm in one year, which makes it prone to drought.

Housing a large part of socio-economically marginalized communities, Bhojdari faces several challenges, and unpredictable weather events have only worsened the situation.

However, with three major projects in the village since 1996, WOTR helped village communities improve adaptive capacities of communities, ecosystems and biodiversity, and participatory governance.

Thanks to the WOTR’s efforts, the forest cover has increased by 43 percent, surface water storage capacity increased by 87%.

Pushpa Vikas Hande, a young woman resident of Bhojdari and an active member of the village water management team, says: animals. Thanks to water budgeting, our village no longer faces water scarcity like other villages in the state.

Bhojdari (before and after)

In the 28 years of its existence, they have reached over seven states, 3,754 villages, with 3.8 million beneficiaries, and trained for 4.19 lakh people in their initiatives.

The team has more 240 people who are working professionals including agricultural engineers, surface hydrologists, groundwater specialists, irrigation engineers, agronomists, computer scientists, environmentalists and managers.

This widespread NGO work has been supported by grants, government institutions like NABARD, individual donations and CSR. Some of the funding partners include Nalanda Foundation, RBS Foundation, Tata Steel Foundation, among many others.

On the road, Crispino says they want expand to a total of 10 states in the years to come and also internationally, particularly in Africa.

“We want deepen our commitment in the field of applied research, as well as entering the world of creating skills and jobs for rural populations, ”he said.

He adds, “The whole employment space has changed due to the COVID-19 situation, there is a whole new work dynamic ahead. So we would like to work and see how we can set up such a qualified, educational and advanced research and training educational institution for job creation.


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