More than 70 percent of Karnataka’s major agricultural area falls within the semi-arid zone. These areas are prone to periodic droughts, severe soil erosion, erratic rainfall, and depleting groundwater. These factors erode the natural resource base and significantly hinder agricultural productivity. Most farmers on these rainfed lands can grow only one crop a year, with little opportunity to increase cropping intensity or diversify into more valuable cash crops. Average yields for ten of the most common crops in these regions are between two-to-five times less than what they could be. More efficient and sustainable use of natural resources, especially of soil, water, and vegetation is a basic need for the economic and agricultural development of these areas.
To tackle these challenges, the project, known locally as ‘Sujala’, was initiated in late 2001 as a community-driven, participatory, and holistic development project to improve the productive potential of selected watersheds in seven predominantly rain-fed districts of Karnataka. Cutting-edge satellite technologies were used to plan and prioritize activities, monitor progress, and assess impacts. Open fields were brought under tree cover to intercept rainfall, reduce soil erosion, and bind the top-soil. Field bunds, contoured trenches, and check dams were built to prevent monsoon rain water from carrying away fertile top soil, enabling it to percolate into the ground to recharge tanks and wells instead. High-yielding breeds of livestock were introduced and trees and grasses were cultivated to increase fodder. An independent team from Antrix Corporation, part of the Indian Space Research Organization, provided ongoing technical and monitoring and evaluation services to the project. The project was able to push the frontiers in applying these technologies far beyond what was earlier envisioned.
Between 2001 and 2009, the project achieved its target of establishing 4,300 farmer groups and 6,600 new self-help groups to sustain participatory watershed management across 7,000 communities in 742 micro-watersheds. Key impacts included:
- The lives of people in 400,000 households improved. Incomes increased by about 40 percent for small and marginal farmers, by more than 50 percent for landless farmers, and by close to 80 percent for farmers on larger properties. Migration from the region dropped by about 70 percent.
- New participatory micro-watershed planning approaches resulted in highly integrated micro-watershed plans being prepared by communities, who assumed greater ownership and commitment to longer-term sustainable land management.
- Runoff and soil erosion were reduced up to 21 cubic meters per hectare. The percentage of irrigated area increased between 6 percent and 14 percent across project sites.
- Crop yields increased by 25 percent over the baseline, cropping patterns shifted to higher valued crops, and milk yields were enhanced by 15 to 20 percent.
- Taking into account member savings, project revolving funds, and leveraged commercial loans, the total potential capital base for self-help groups in project community grew to almost US$13 million by 2009 and continues to be used to help establish small businesses, particularly among women and landless.
- The project was the recipient of several awards, including: National Productivity Awards in 2007 and 2009; National Water Award 2007; Earth Care Award 2008; and National E-Governance Award 2009; International Globe Sustainability Research Award – 2010 (awarded to Antrix Corporation in Stockholm for its Sujala work); Geospatial Excellence Award 2010; and the World Bank Internal Evaluation Group 2011 Good Practice Award for Monitoring and Evaluation.
IDA provided US$86.0 million and the Government of India US$14.6 million, while another US$7.4 million came through community contributions.
The project was implemented by the Karnataka Government’s Watershed Development Department with several non-governmental organizations. The project partnered with Antrix Corporation, part of the Indian Space Research Organization, to provide ongoing technical and monitoring and evaluation services to the project.
Toward the Future
The model has been replicated in six additional districts of Karnataka through the Prime Minister’s Rehabilitation Package for Distressed Districts, as well as on a further 150,000 hectares of rainfed lands by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development. The project has resulted in a new state policy for the co-management of common lands in watersheds that will have long-term impacts for improved natural resource conservation and rural livelihoods. Many of the project’s innovative monitoring and evaluation systems have been adopted by India’s central Ministry of Agriculture and its new National Rainfed Area Authority to be used in all government watershed programs throughout India. Lessons learned from the project have been incorporated into India’s new draft national watershed guidelines and its national Integrated Watershed Management Program.