Navalgund, a small taluk of North Karnataka has a history of acute water shortage and farmer suicides. The drought-stricken region has demotivated hundreds of farmers, making them migrate to the cities. Dry patches of lands are a common sight here.
However, in middle of scorched and damaged yellow fields of green grams, one can easily spot a four-acre flourishing green farmland that flaunts green grams, coriander, wheat and chilli. The land belongs to Baslingappa Kapatnawar, a 48-year-old farmer from Navalgund.
A few kilometres drive ahead, another patch of a lush green farm is standing tall, surrounded by several acres of water-deprived land. Owned by Manjunath, a 50-year-old farmer from Nalavadi village, this five-acre land has been generating profits for Manjunath in times when other farmers are frequently facing crop failure.
The common thread, which binds these two farmers is the creation of a farm pond in the middle of their land. A system of rainwater harvesting, farm ponds provide year-long availability of water to these rain-fed farmers.
“Earlier, when it used to rain we could not use the water in an optimum way. For example, we need water in September but it rains in July. We can’t use that rainwater and it all goes to waste,” says Baslingappa.
The concept of farm ponds is not new and has been proven extremely successful, yet why is it still not followed by a large number of farmers?
The farmers are reluctant to devote a large piece of their land to construct a pond. As farmers are incurring heavy losses, spending thousands and lakhs of rupees on construction of a pond is not acceptable by them. Also, they are not very sure of the impact these ponds can create.
Deshpande Foundation, a Hubli based organisation that aims to create a nurturing environment for grassroots innovations and social entrepreneurship, is addressing these issues by creating a sustainable model for the farmers.
A quick, affordable and sustainable model of creating farm ponds is addressing the challenges.
Launched in 2013 with 16 ponds, the initiative “Neer Sinchana” has been touching the right chords. The initiative has reached to over 4,000 ponds in over six districts of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
In this cost-sharing model, the operational cost (labour cost, cost of the fuel of the excavator, the fees of the operator, etc.) of constructing the pond is borne by the farmer while Deshpande Foundation provides technical assistance.
The construction of the pond is quick and is completed within 36 hours. A large number of labourers work in different shifts using multiple machines to ensure timely completion of the project. This way, the initiative not just addresses the water woes of the farmers but also generates employment opportunities.
The cost of construction of a pond of size 100×100 is Rs 30,000 – Rs 35,000. The farmer can either ask DF to construct the pond or can get any other contractor. “We do it at a cheaper rate. Also, our quality of work is better because we understand the farmers’ needs and have been working with them for a long time. The third parties charge approximately Rs 90,000 for a pond of size 100×100,” says Innus Khan, Program manager, DF.
A simple idea and how it has solved the enormous water woes
A farm pond acts as a storehouse of water. A large pond is constructed in the middle of a land, where rainwater gets collected for future usage.
The pond gets filled in just one rainfall and can provide water for approximately eight to nine months. This collected water is then used for irrigation by the farmers throughout the year with the help of a pump.
After every two to three years, excess soil gets deposited at the bottom of the pond, which needs to be excavated. Apart from this, these farm ponds do not require any maintenance.
Deshpande Foundation’s study suggests that after introducing farm ponds, about 75 percent of the farmers in Navalgund shifted from doing just agro farming to horticulture.
Raju, a 26-year-old farmer from Tirlapur saw his father struggle every year to sustain the crops, decided to get a farm pond constructed on his land in March 2017. He spent Rs 90,000 to construct a farm pond of size 200x100x15 feet. In just a few months he has recovered the entire cost of construction. Raju says that earlier his 12 acres of land would generate a revenue of about Rs 1,30,000 annually. Now he manages to earn about Rs 2,80,000 by growing crops like Chilli, cotton, wheat, groundnut, etc.
Just a single farm pond has given Raju enough confidence to go one step ahead and start Papaya plantation too.
Going “seeing is believing” way, as more and more farmers saw the miraculous benefits of the farm ponds, they started constructing them in their farmlands.
“It is better to create a big pond in the land as compared to using it all for farming. The pond gives you enough water, which results in a far better yield. This is not possible when you have no water and a huge piece of land waiting to get irrigated,” says Raju.
There is now an aggregated demand of such ponds. Over 1,000 ponds have been created by DF in 2017 in Navalgund and over 5,000 are on the waitlist.
R. H. Thimmangode, another farmer from Shishuvinahalli, has successfully managed to irrigate all of his 14 acres of land throughout the year. He constructed a farm pond of size 270x100x15 feet in April 2016. He claims that his farm yield has doubled in just one year. He now plans to get into horticulture and plant fruits and vegetables.
“I have enough water now. This gives me the confidence to grow other crops too. This was not possible earlier. Look at other farms without ponds, all their crops have been damaged due to less water,” says Thimmanagode. He earned a profit of Rs six lakhs in 2017, a figure he never imagined he would reach.
The ripple effect of this simple idea can be seen through the lifestyle changes of these farmers. Many of them have started sending their kids to English medium schools. Some farmers have installed sprinklers on their farms and are buying new technologies.
There are hundreds of success stories like these in Navalgund that showcase the power of a simple idea.
Neer Sinchana has been proven as a successful solution and can be easily replicated in other regions of the country. Karnataka has a net cultivated area of 101.34 lakh ha. out of which 64.75 is lakh ha is rain-fed. In a state where over 60 percent of its farmers are dependent upon rainfall for agriculture, farm ponds are a perfect solution.
Many farmers are still struggling to make their ends meet. They are still committing suicide and are still facing the frequent crop loss. And this is why we need more of such farm ponds and more awareness about this simple idea.
Photos: Shreya Pareek
This story is a result of a month-long on the ground effort in documenting stories from North Karnataka, which has been made possible by Deshpande Foundation, a Hubli based organisation that aims to create a nurturing environment for grassroots innovations and social entrepreneurship.
Don’t forget to check out Development Dialogues, an international social entrepreneurship ecosystem conference hosted at Hubali, Karnataka by Deshpande Foundation. This annual conference brings together over 400 delegates, 200 organizations, 200 startups and 1,000 university students to connect and collaborate over important issues of common interest. Register for the event here.