The Rayalseema area in southern Andhra Pradesh is a semi-arid zone, getting only about 450-600 mm rainfall in a year. The Rayalseema Watershed Development Programme zeroed in on 6 micro-watersheds in 21 villages in 4 districts with moderate to acute water shortage: Ananthapur, Chittor, Cuddappa and Nellore. The basic starting point for the project was the understanding that soil moisture is the cheapest source of irrigation for village communities. The underlying goal was to ensure equity – gender as well as class based.
The RWDP is a joint effort of 5 funding partners – Action for World Solidarity (ASW)/CWS, Bread For the World, Christian Aid, Oxfam (I) Trust and Water Aid and 6 local implementation partners, with AFPRO providing the socio-technical services. It covers 1508 persons with 3597.21 acres of personally owned land and 851.33 common property resources.
At the very beginning, the implementing agencies dialogued with landless and marginal farmers, focusing more on the needs of groups that depended solely, or at least in majority, on livestock assets. The physical factors contributing to water scarcity, as well as the social factors that denied the weaker sections access to available water resources, were discussed at community-level meetings where both the landed as well as landless voiced ideas on feasible designs for water harvesting structures, construction materials, etc. Exposure trips and training courses on soil and water conservation and rainwater harvesting made the concepts clear, and gave them the requisite knowledge to think about, plan, structures and designs for their own communities.
Gradually, interest levels were raised enough for the villagers to participate as members of water harvesting committees consisting of both men and women to supervise construction. Similarly, committees on drinking water and sanitation and work monitoring were also organized. The community jointly decided to disburse the benefits of the program to landless and land-poor families by investing in ponds as drinking water reservoirs for domestic animals. Such planning made sure that the concerns of the marginalized were met in the course of the project. In at least 7 villages, women were involved in deciding the crop mix, with the direct result that the ratio of food crops grown increased.
Among the clearly expressed impacts at the end of the four-year project period:
- Marked improvement in surface water storage and availability due to rainwater harvesting structures (renovated as well as new ones). Surface water lasts for longer periods.
- Enhanced soil moisture content, reducing risks of crop failures.
- Build up in ground water levels: Drinking water wells are full, 13 hitherto dry open wells are recharged, 11 community irrigation wells are in operation.
- Livestock have been ensured drinking water.
Of special mention is a boost in self-confidence by putting into practice the right to equal wages and involving women in jobs requiring skilled labour. In the words of the evaluators, “encouraging women to take up skilled works, which were normally done by men, has significantly enhanced their confidence”.