The WLE 2016 Annual Report > Promoting innovative business models and institutions

Douglas Varchol

Sustainable watershed management benefiting rural communities in India

Chili Farmer in Karanataka State, India.

Mr. Dmopi lives with his family in the northern Karanataka State in India.  He used to work as a laborer for less than US$100 a month.  But now, he has significantly increased his income by turning his hand to farming. This is thanks to an innovative public-private partnership (PPP) supported by WLE and the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems through the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).

The successful public-private partnership brought together one of Bangalore's leading steel plants, JSW Steel Ltd., state government, local NGOs and local farmers. The partnership engaged in a range of activities aimed at improving and restoring watershed management, fostering productive farming and thereby increasing yields and rural incomes.

Keeping agriculture healthy to ensure a future for business and communities

Rural livelihoods and food security in the area historically depended on family farm plots. After many years of poor water and soil management, yields had been low. Youth who saw little future in farming were migrating to find work elsewhere.

The nearby JSW Steel plant, which provides jobs for many residents in over 40 local villages, decided they wanted to support local communities. The idea was to help them improve crop productivity and farming incomes by fostering improved land and water management. The company also recognized that stemming youth outmigration from the area would not only be beneficial for the community, but also help ensure a sufficient future supply of labor for the steel plant. The vision was for stronger, more sustainable land and water management to lead to stronger and more sustainable rural communities, helping to ensure stronger and more sustainable business – a win-win for all.

As detailed in a video about the initiative, four villages were initially chosen to participate in the PPP, which impacted around 5,000 farmers. Water surveys confirmed that groundwater in the area was suitable for use in agricultural crop irrigation. The partnership then implemented a variety of actions aimed at reducing rainfall runoff and increasing rainwater infiltration into the soil to recharge groundwater resources. In consultation and collaboration with local villagers, a number of water-harvesting structures were constructed. For example, check dams (small dams constructed across waterways to counteract erosion) and farm ponds were built. The check dams were found to recharge between 15-20 borehole wells, which could in turn be used by farmers to irrigate food and other cash crops. The farm ponds were also used to supplement irrigation, while simultaneously contributing to groundwater recharge.

Citizen science to improve resource management

Participating farmers were taught how to take quality field samples as part of a detailed soil survey. In total, over 3,000 soil samples were collected and analyzed. 

Each participating farming family was also given a soil health card, in the local language, detailing current and desirable soil nutrient levels. The WLE team collaborated with these farmers in setting up demonstration sites to show what could be achieved. They wanted to encourage farmers to adapt or change their land and water management practices.

When farmers used this new knowledge, understanding and following recommendations about how to manage and improve their fields and use of water resources, the result was yield increases of around 20%. Yields grew from an average of 66 kg previously to around 84 kg.  This impressive result encouraged more farmers to get involved and try the techniques on degraded land that had previously been considered virtually barren. Youth who have seen the results from the demonstration farm plots have also been observed returning to agriculture in the area.

In Mr. Dmopi's case, he used the improved land and watershed management tools and practices to grow chilies as a cash crop. This year, his harvest is expected to generate about 300,000 Indian Rupees ($US4,400), a big leap from his US$100 a month income as a laborer.

Following the success of the initial pilot, JSW Steel Ltd., encouraged by the power of partnerships, has plans to expand the initiative to include over 100 villages in the area.  This example clearly shows that PPPs, when based on principles of sustainability, can be successful in delivering mutual benefits for both the private sector and local communities. They have the potential to make significant, positive contributions to reducing poverty and migration away from rural areas. They also have potential to ensure the ongoing sustainability of private sector ventures, while helping to mitigate the impacts of climate change and variability.

Learn more about what WLE is doing to improve soil and land management.

in 2015 wle: field tested 62 technologies and natural resource management practices, helped 125,000 farmers to apply new technologies or management practices, supported improved technologies or management practices on 2.5 million hectares

Influencing policy and decision making

In 2015 WLE: established 41 multi-stakeholder platforms and influenced 200 policy processes

Promoting innovative business models and institutions

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WLE in 2015 had 110,000 website visits and 43,000 views on CG-space and published 141 ISI publications and 94 open access publications

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