KADWANCHI’S 400-ODD farmers received 412 mm of rain in 2015-16, about 60 per cent of their average annual rainfall, but the cultivators weren’t unduly perturbed. For Kadwanchi village, located in arid Marathwada’s Jalna district, has witnessed a rare triumph. Even as the rest of Marathwada’s economy was being crushed by three droughts in four years, Kadwanchi’s agricultural output grew — from Rs 27 crore in 2012-13 to Rs 29 crore and Rs 32 crore in the subsequent years. In 2015-16, their agricultural output was Rs 42 crore, and per capita income up from Rs 3,264 in 1999 to Rs 1.27 lakh last year.
Even as neighbouring villages in drought-hit Jalna reported a next to nothing yield in the kharif season of 2015, Kadwanchi’s villagers were adding 40 new farm ponds to the existing 347, repairing farm bunds and tanks and desilting contour trenches, updating an exhaustive watershed management programme they have benefited from since its completion in 2000.
“You think vast vineyards are possible only in Nashik? We have grapes on nearly 1,200 acres of the 3,700 acres of cultivable land in Kadwanchi, because there’s water in our wells and farm ponds nine months of the year,” says Chandrakant Kshirsagar, 45, the village sarpanch.
They owe that success to an initiative that began in 1995-1996, when the Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) of Jalna, established by non-profit organisation Marathwada Sheti Sahaya Mandal, undertook a watershed project in Kadwanchi, 18 km from Jalna city, through a sponsorship from the Indian Council of Agricultural research (ICAR), New Delhi. The project was completed in 2000-2001, at a cost of Rs 1.2 crore, and covered a total watershed area of 1,888 hectares, comprising Kadwanchi and the two smaller villages of Waghrul and Nandapur.
“When we started, Kadwanchi had all the markings of a severely drought-prone village — poor farm incomes, poor farmland productivity owing to poor quality of soil, migration for work elsewhere and the marginal farmers barely earning subsistence-level farm incomes,” says Prof Pandit Warse of the Jalna KVK.
Over five years, a scientific watershed management plan was implemented, starting with soil conservation, including bunding of farm boundaries to prevent soil erosion. The ridge portions of the watershed were given trenches with plantation on the soil mounds, water absorption trenches were excavated to check the erosive velocity of water and to improve ground water recharging. Earthen embankments were built across natural nullahs or rainwater streams as water harvesting structures, along with other structures such as gully plugs and gabions to impound water for longer and help recharge wells.
Warse, who the villagers have remained in regular touch with even 15 years after the project was officially completed, says the 455 families have nearly 600 wells. Nine check dams were built, nearly 25 km of stream were widened and desilted. As many as 347 farm ponds were excavated, and another 40 are now being added this year for the coming monsoon. “Not a drop of water is wasted,” he says.
The collective water storage made it possible for Kadwanchi to go in for high value crops such as grapes, ginger and chillies. Nearly 350 families now have grape orchards, a few have pomegranate plantations too, with vegetables, ginger and Rabi sorghum accounting for the rest. The grapes are the true measure of the watershed approach’s success — an acre of grapes requires 10 lakh litres of water through a season. Jalna now has 10,000 acres of vineyards, over one tenth of it in this one village alone.
“We showed the way for Jalna’s vineyards. Villagers also invested nearly Rs 25,000 per acre on drip irrigation systems so 100 per cent of Kadwanchi’s farmland is drip-irrigated, many with a pump-set and centralised control system from where a specific part of a farm can be watered at a time,” says Kshirsagar. The sarpanch even has a rain gauge alongside, so he can monitor the village’s water budget carefully.