The whole village marched behind her

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NOnce it was a famine affected area. Due to acute water scarcity, there was no farming, and livestock died on large scale. People were robbed of their works, and forced to migrate looking for alternative means of livelihood. Children could not attend schools. As the day dawns, women in groups often had to walk several kilometres just to fetch a pot of water for their family.

After a few years, the villagers found a solution. They understood that ‘scarcity of water’ is the root cause of their travails.  As rainfall is the only sources to replenish the soil moisture, they all decided to conserve water, whatever little it rains. With the guidance from some of the voluntary organisations, they learnt about water conservation practices. They dug soak pits in the entire village and focused on planting trees. Soon, their efforts started yielding good results. All the ponds, wells filled, bores got recharged, and they took every care that they don’t dry up again. The success story of the village, that became self-sufficient with self-help,  is inspiring several others. 

If men fail in doing things right, it is inevitable for womenfolk to take up the responsibilities. Exactly, same thing had happened at Mahadevapuram village. For decades women have borne the brunt of water scarcity. At last,  30 tribal women formed into groups and dug farm ponds in those areas, where they spotted moisture in the soil. Their hard work resulted in success, and by next year their travails for water ended.

They all united for changing the village

Mahadevapuram is one such village, that faces acute water problem, not only during summer, but throughout the year. Farmers could not  grow even a single-crop for want of irrigation. Poverty-stricken people used to migrate for livelihood. Such a village got transformed into a ‘lush green area’ with the untiring efforts of an innocent tribal women, Maridi Lakshmidevamma. By uniting all, she took the initiate for digging  20 farm ponds and construct 4 check dams in the village. Thus, water crisis became a thing of past, and farmers could grow crops happily throughout the year.

Eight years ago, Mahadevapuram (Dummugudem Mandalam, Bhadradri District, Telangana) was affected by famine due to acute shortage of  irrigation and drinking water. But, Laxmidevamma did not keep quiet as a passive spectator, and determined toimproveupon the situation. She visited Battigudem and Dabbanutala, which are the acutely affected villages in their panchayat, and assessed the gravity of the issue. During that time the activists of ASDS voluntary organisation visited the village and suggested her solutions. Accordingly, she swung into action and initiated water conservation works. In her footsteps, the whole village came forward and put their physical efforts voluntarily.

Achieved unitedly …

Eight months later, they all witnessed, altogether, a different village.  Through the training provided by NBARD and ASDS, they all understood about water conservation methods. Soon, ‘Mahadevapuram Watershed Village Development Committee of Women’  was formed with 15 members. The village is surrounded by big and small hills, and rain water that flows down, goes wasted, as there are no bunds to hold the water.  Lakshmidevamma proposed to conserve water and increase water table by constructing check dams and stone footwalls, and digging farm ponds and  ditches around the farms. Through these low cost measures, they facilitated  rainwater absorbtion in the village itself. These women volunteers group went round the villages in their vicinity and explained the villagers that water conservation is the only solution for combating water scarcity. All those, who were severely suffering from shortage of water, came forward to support Lakshmidevamma. With their cooperation watershed works were initiated. Consequently, all the ponds filled with water during the rainy season, ensured irrigation for farming and gave bumper crop that year.

Two crops per annum

This enthusiasm gradually spread to the neighbouring villages. With in a few months, in more than 100 villages in Khammam District, 200 check dams were built. In the past, the farmers of this region were not sure to get water for even one crop.  Now, because of these initiatives, they are able to grow two crops. Because of the check dams, water table rose up, and consequently agricultural acreage too enhanced considerably. One can appreciate the change even through the increase in net profits on the crops.

Migration reduced

Those who migrated to other states to work as farm labourers too returned, and doing farming in their own fields. They are able to provide their children good schooling. Even the fields with cracked soils, situated around the farm ponds have become wet. All the dried up hand pumps have been recharged. Women, who earlier used to go for long distance along with their daughters, for fetching a pot of water, are now getting water, right at the doorstep. Thus, girls could go to schools. Women are now earning on dairying.

One of thetribals  of Mahadevapur  said, Earlier,  we used to go to other states as farm labourers, for feeding our families. With the completion of watershed scheme in our village, we now growing vegetables in our fields, which were barren till recently.  We are now owning cattle. In the past, there used be maximum, one or two motor cycles in these villages. Now, every house has a motorbike. Now, we are purchasing tractors for cultivation. It is used be very difficult for getting matches for our sons, as no parents were prepared to send their daughters here. But now, it’s no longer a problem.”

Following are the results …

  1. The cost of construction of a check dam ranges, anywhere, between Rs.75,000/- to Rs.1 lakh. Of the total cost, 16% was collected from famers, and hence the responsibility of its management lies with the tribal women.
  2. People are migrating from rural areas to towns due to scarcity of water for drinkingand irrigation. If the same trend continues, it may lead to economic crisis and vulnerability of  livelihood. These women successfully attempted in averting such things.
  3. Water conservation measures ensured recharging of ground water at Mahadevapur village. All villagers have understood the need for recharging the soil and conserving rain water. They also realised which crop to be grown in which season.
  4. Laksmidevamma has proven that even famine can be combatted with unity. Farmers of that village, who once could not get water even for one crop and got very meagre yield of just 7 bags per acre, are now getting an yield of 25 bags per acre.

Celebrating their success they happily said in their Koya language,”Vanji pantaku kaakumdaa, godikimki manushyakimki, erudokomdi”, which means … “Water is available in plenty, not only for farming, but also for people and cattle.”

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