Promoting Low Cost Protective Irrigation in Rainfed Agricultural Systems


Agrarian economies in India are represented by a symbiotic relationship between food security and livelihoods. With timely availability of water identified as a critical component affecting crop growth; improvements in food grain production are closely related to food security. Failure of monsoon or non-availability of irrigation facilities negatively affects the farming community and ultimately leads to food shortage among the rural communities, especially the poor and marginal.  Erratic rainfall patterns, predominantly rainfed agriculture, low agricultural productivity, lack of awareness about modern agricultural practices, lack of awareness about better crop/land management practices and poor community based management systems of the existing natural resource base challenge food security and livelihoods of large sections of schedule caste and schedule tribe populations inhabiting parts of the states of Orissa, Jharkhand, Assam Meghalaya and Tripura.

Developing low-cost irrigation facilities in such regions requires tapping natural springs and streams that are present across the hilly terrain. Action for Food Production (AFPRO) and Sir Dorabji Tata Trust (SDTT) initiated a project titled “Enhancing Livelihoods and Food Security through Diversion based Irrigation System (DBIS)” to empower tribal communities in 145 villages in Eastern and North-eastern India. Hilly districts across 5 states have been identified for support under the project. The selected areas are inhabited by tribal and marginalized communities and they are dependent on a single rainfed crop and non-timber forest products for livelihoods. Food security among these households is limited to 5-6 months a year or lesser.

Diversion based Irrigation Systems (DBIS) represent an innovative approach to the promotion of food security and livelihoods through the provision of protective irrigation to rainfed farmers based on the principle of gravity flow. The undulating and hilly topography, characteristic of eastern and north eastern areas, witnesses the emergence of numerous seasonal springs and streams. The terrain has been judiciously utilized to transfer water through designing of distribution mechanisms linking sources of water and beneficiary populations through well defined channels/pipelines.

Diversion-based irrigation systems are much simpler to operate and maintain than other systems such as Lift Irrigation Systems. Identifying the right water sources and connecting these to the farmers fields through gravity based distribution channels to enable irrigation, both kharif and paddy crops that provides protective irrigation. The structures constructed under this project are leading to the increase in the irrigated area – kharif as well as rabi season, which results in the overall increase in crop production and farm income. Together with this, training to farmers on appropriate agricultural skills such as SRI, mixed farming, organic farming, crop rotation, and dryland farming facilitate them to grow successful crops for food security. Agricultural dependent livelihoods are significantly strengthened to ensure long-term sustainability of such delivery systems. Further, formation and strengthening of CBOs adds reasons for sustainability of these structures.

A people centric approach has led to the capacity building of local communities on multiple aspects for ensuring sustainability of DBIS structures. Implementation of DBIS across the five states has highlighted the need to further leverage the strengths of DBIS interventions comprising the use of traditional knowledge and proper use of water resources.

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