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Karnataka Watershed Project

Incomes increase for Indian farmers in Karnataka
Incomes increase for Indian farmers in Karnataka

Five districts in Karnataka, India, were drought-prone and dominated by rain-fed agriculture. Average annual household income for the one million people who lived in the area was approximately US$222. Common lands were deteriorating through poor management. Self-help groups were weak and unable to build financial capital.

Soil and water conservation works have been completed on over 200,000 ha, improving average crop yields by about 24 percent and broadening crop diversity.

Average annual household income has increased by about 66% to approximately US$373. The increase in average income has contributed to a reduction in migration by about 70 percent. Young men no longer have to leave the community to find work.

> Self-help groups, which have flourished with project support; have already mobilized more than US$4 million in savings to help establish small businesses. The majority of members are women. More than 60 percent of the self-help groups are now linked to commercial financial institutions, leveraging additional credit for larger enterprise start-ups. Money-lenders are no longer a major force in these communities.

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Farmer Somanna picking cotton between young mango trees on his once-barren land.

“ I have learnt how to make bunds along the contours of my fields to conserve water and prevent the top soil from being washed away by the rain, ”

For years, all Somanna could grow on the coarse dry soil of his eroded fields was millet – and that too, only one crop during the rains– barely enough for his family’s subsistence. In the lean season, when no crops would grow, Somanna was left with no other option but to migrate to nearby Hubli town to search of work as a daily wage laborer.

> The training and assistance given by the World Bank supported Karnataka Watershed Development Project, also known as ‘Sujala’ – or ‘good water’ has turned his life around. “I have learnt how to make bunds along the contours of my fields to conserve water and prevent the top soil from being washed away by the rain,” he adds pointing to the vast stretches of arid brown hills rolling away in the distance. (Read More)

“ Although the past few monsoons have brought very little rain, I haven’t been worried at all. I now have enough water in my well to keep my fields green.”

Farmer Gundappa in field of young mulberry trees watered by refilled well nearby

“Three consecutive years of drought had dried up the water in my well, making it difficult for me to grow anything,” he adds, echoing the insecurity of farmers on unirrigated lands who have to wait for uncertain monsoon clouds to breathe new life into withered soil.

> Gundappa’s new-found sense of security stems from a small check dam that has been built by the ‘Sujala’ project across a nearby stream. The cement and stone check dam –looking somewhat like a speed breaker - has slowed the seasonal torrent of water that rages downstream during the monsoon rains. (Read More)

Farmer Mahesh picking jasmine flowers.

“Rice yields have also gone up – from 20 quintals per acre earlier to some 30 – 35 acres now. Earlier we used 30 kg of seeds to plant one acre of paddy, now we use only 2 kg.”

Young farmer Mahesh is the son of an Ayurvedic doctor - a practitioner of traditional medicine - who is renowned across the region for his ability to cure skin ailments and treat deadly snake bites with local herbs. Young Mahesh is also the secretary of the Sujala Sangha, the farmers’ association formed under the World Bank assisted ‘Sujala’ project in Karnataka.

> To reduce water consumption in growing rice – the staple foodgrain of the area - the farmers of the Sangha are shifting away from the old method of growing paddy which needs copious amounts of water to flood the fields. Instead, with training received under the project, they are adopting the new the Madagascar method– known locally as ‘Jalashri’– that requires 70 percent less water and also gives higher yields. (Read More)

“I first took a loan to buy one goat. Now my goat has given birth to two more.”

Rukma Bai Lambani

Being landless, Rukma and her husband Nagappa continue the Lambani tradition of rearing sheep for a living. “Our Lambani people have always been herders of goats and sheep,” says Rukma with a sense of pride in the community’s ancestral vocation.

> The Renuka Women’s Self Help Group (SHG) set up by the ‘Sujala’ project has helped Rukma to increase her flock of goats and get them insured. “I first took a loan to buy one goat,” she says. “Now my goat has given birth to two kids,” she adds. “My husband and I have also been able to earn some extra money by helping to construct bunds under the project on farmers’ lands nearby.”

With rising incomes, Rukma and her family no longer migrate to the neighboring state of Goa in search of work as construction labor. Her new-found sense of empowerment has also fueled her desire to learn: “I want to be able to read and write. I also want my daughter to get a regular job when she grows up,” she says.

Senkatamma with here sheep

“I started with three sheep. In three years time, I increased my flock to seven sheep and a calf.”

Sentakamma and her family have always been landless agricultural laborers. To supplement the family’s income, Sentakamma first took a loan from the local women’s Self Help Group to buy a few sheep. “I started with three sheep,” says this enterprising Dalit woman from Uttanoor village in Karnataka. “In three years time, I increased my flock to seven sheep and a calf,” she adds proudly. Apart from wool, Sentakamma also earns money by selling manure to local farmers who value it to fertilize the soil.


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