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                          Watershed development through peoples participation: the story of Pimpalgaon Wagha,Maharashtra

The project location

       Pimpalgaon Wagha is a small village covering an area of 840 ha in the Ahmednagar district of the state of Maharashtra. It is located at the foot of barren and rocky hills in the rain shadow area of the Western Ghats. With an average annual rainfall of 511 mm, most of which falls within a span of a few days, Pimpalgaon Wagha has been experiencing severe droughts for many years.The landscape is marked by heavy soil erosion. The highly eroded stony soil is largely unfit for cultivation, but for the lack of alternatives, the people of Pimpalgaon Wagha continue to grow crops.

         Pimpalgaon Wagha has 879 inhabitants, 27% of the families belong to backward caste, they live at the border of the village. A socio-economic study conducted in early 1988 revealed a very grim picture. Because of recurrent drought and the resulting poor economic condition, the 879 inhabitants often experienced hunger and were prone to many diseases. The women were the worst affected. Drinking water was not available within the village and they had to walk for miles to get water and fuelwood. More often than not, this task was given to young girls, who had to leave school to help in household chores and were, as a result, deprived of education.

          In 1988 Social Centre, a voluntary agency which has been working in the district for two decades, decided to work in the village because of its poor condition. When Social Centre approached the village, the people expressed a desire to start a dairy co-operative as they had seen one in a neighbouring village. Social Centre helped them in this endeavour and also helped them obtain loans to buy better cattle. Thus a relationship of trust was established.

The Way to Success


      In 1989 Social Centre decided to introduce watershed development in Pimpalgaon Wagha. Some villagers were taken on an exposure visit to Adgaon and Ralegan Siddhi, where experiments of participatory watershed development had been successful. The villagers were very impressed and enthused. They saw the benefits of watershed development and decided to try out the same in their village. The conditions laid down for successful implementation of watershed development were quite rigid and demanded a change in the prevailing lifestyle of village community. But the now-motivated people readily accepted the conditions.

      Watershed development involves the complete participation of the affected people, where they are responsible for the planning, implementation and monitoring of the project. The people of Pimpalgaon Wagha formed a Village Watershed Committee (VWC) to oversee the activities involved developing their watershed. This body was nominated from among the villagers and was representative of all communities and geographical regions within the village. This was again a novel experience as the backward communities who had never really been part of the village affairs now had fair representation on this decision-making body. As the VWC had been unanimously nominated by the villagers, the better-off farmers lobby could not dominate it.

      A ban was imposed on free grazing and free felling. The villagers decided to levy a fine on defaulters. The villagers also sold off their scrub cattle and replaced them by good quality hybrid cattle. Goats were sold off, as a result of which children who otherwise had to tend them could go to school. The villagers then decided to take up measures to conserve soil and water.

      Social Centre gave them support for technical surveys and other managerial assistance. A nursery was set up by a small farmer. Treatment measures like contour trenching, contour bunding, gully plugging, construction of check dams and percolation tanks were taken up. The villagers contributed free labour on the basis of two man-days per month per family or two days wages in lieu of labour. Women also contributed free labour for tree plantation activities.

     The villagers were trained to carry out tasks like surveying and levelling. The activities were monitored by a supervisor who was also from the village. The result was that the people began to feel responsible for the project and so worked hard to make it a success.

The project achievements  

       Before the implementation of watershed programme the backward communities were considered as social outcasts. The watershed movement brought about a change in this attitude of the people of Pimpalgaon Wagha. Social taboos have been lifted and these people are now allowed freely in the village. The backward communities have a fair representation on the VWC and participate actively in the decision-making process.
        As more children could go to school, literacy in the village improved and today the literacy rate is about 80%. Biogas plants were set up in some households in the village and their fuel wood consumption declined. As drinking water had become available within the village, the women did not have to go far for water and so could contribute more positively to the development of the village. They set up a revolving credit and made loans available to the needy at the low interest rate of 2%.

       The soil and water conservation measures increased the water levels in the village wells and water was available for about 11 months in the year. Before watershed development was introduced in Pimpalgaon Wagha, only 40 of the 75 wells had water and that too for just 8 months. As a result, the farmers could irrigate their fields and agricultural productivity increased by nearly 50%.
Horticulture was introduced in the village on wastelands and private farmlands bringing more land (33 ha) under productive use. Eleven ha is under dryland horticulture, while the remaining 22 ha under mango, chickoo, orange and tangerine cultivation is irrigated. The dairy co-operative is running successfully and milk production has also gone up to 1200 litres per day. As more opportunities for employment have become available within the village, the migration to urban areas and other agricultural wage labours has stopped. In fact, some families who had earlier left the village have now returned.

Natural resources
        Positive impacts on natural resources are also observed. The once rocky hillsides around Pimpalgaon Wagha are now covered with grasses and shrubs, as a result of the ban on free grazing and free felling. In spite of the drought situation, nearly 80% survival rate is seen in the 200,000 saplings planted by the people.
       Soil erosion had declined considerably and grasses are growing along the  waterways. Streams which would flow only up to November now flow up to January even in a dry year. Drinking water is available even in the dry years. This year, for example, the monsoons did not arrive in Pimpalgaon Wagha till September, but the people had drinking water, and could also irrigate their horticulture plots.  
         Today, Pimpalgaon Wagha acts as a role model for other village communities that wish to help themselves and better their conditions. The people of Pimpalgaon Wagha have even decided to adopt another village community in their vicinity and introduce it to watershed development, thus giving an impetus to a watershed movement.

References :
- Lobo C. & Kochendorfer-Lucius G, 1992. The rain decided to help us. Pimpalgaon Wagha: an experience in participatory watershed development in Maharashtra State, India. GTZ, Bonn.
- Pangara G. & Pangara V, 1992. From poverty to plenty: The story of Ralegan Siddhi. Studies in ecology and sustainable development No. 5. INTACH, 71, Lodi Estate, New Delhi - 110 003, India.

Source: Centre for Information on Low External Input and Sustainable Agriculture (www.ileia.org)

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