Lessons from an Awalkhed school


Sustainable model: In the valleys, a series of check dams and bunds were constructed to slow down the run-off water and give it a chance to infiltrate into the ground. Photos by the author

Tucked in a small hamlet of Maharashtra, a primary school for tribal children has displayed that collective efforts can reap benefits for the entire village. Awalkhed is a small village in the Nashik district of Maharashtra. This village, which was otherwise reeling under acute water shortage, although being equated to Chirapunji, has made an effort to find a solution by successfully harvesting rain water for fulfilling its water needs.

With some parts of the country receiving heavy rainfall, while others getting less than normal rain, there is lower productivity, crop loss and agricultural distress. This state of affairs need not always be the case. One can harvest rain water and make sure that it percolates into the soil and replenishes ground water.

Aseema Educational Trust, an NGO working for the upliftment of tribal children, is running a primary school for the tribal children in Awalkhed village, Igatpuri taluk, Nasik district of Maharashtra. This school has made efforts to conserve water on its 14-acre campus. In spite of receiving an annual average rainfall of 3000-3500 mm in this village, there is an acute shortage of drinking water during the summer. The village was reeling under water crisis. A simple exercise on the school campus worked wonders for the community.
 Aseema, with sought guidance from Raghavendra Rao, a consultant and an expert on organic agriculture and ecosystem development, took up the task of conservation of water on their school campus. The campus has an open well which fulfilled the drinking water needs of the communities around. It was important to keep the well recharged at all times.

The intention of the consultant was to demonstrate how plentiful rain water could be conserved through the summer to sustain both the well for drinking and the fields for agriculture, was translated into this. This was done in hope that the villagers could adopt these practices for water conservation in their own lands.

The entire plot was surveyed by Raghavendra Rao and a comprehensive rain-water harvesting plan was drawn up. Raghavendra says, “this was done by walking around and deciding on appropriate places where run-off rainwater could be harvested.” Since the topography is undulating and the hill sides are steep, contour lines were marked using a theodolite, a measuring instrument, and trenches were dug along them. He adds, “the bunding was done starting from the ridge to the valley. This ensured that the rainwater was harvested where it fell, and the run-off, if any, did not acquire erosive force to wash the top soil away.”

In the valleys between the hillocks, a series of check dams were constructed to slow down the run-off water and give it a chance to infiltrate into the ground.

Ecologically self-sustaining system

Once the earthwork was completed and physical structures were constructed, the task of planting a diversity of fast-growing nitrogen-fixing and multi-purpose tree, shrub and herb species was undertaken so as to make the entire area a self-sustaining ecological system producing food, fruit, fibre, fertiliser and fuel wood was undertaken. Species like mango, guava, jackfruit, jamun, sapota, fig, ber, etc were planted to transform the patch into a fruit orchard. Soon, a small area of the flat land will be turned in to a green patch of diverse vegetables, cereals and pulses. This will ensure nutritious food for the children. Besides, the children get to know a thing or two about farming and water conservation practices.

Raghavendra exclaims, “the well is now getting recharged by subterranean streams, when it doesn't rain.” This gets rejuvenated because of the water harvesting work undertaken in the campus. The task has been accomplished in less than two years. As the ecosystem evolves and gets more complex, it will produce a diversity of food, fodder for livestock and serve as a habitat for birds, reptiles and insects.

Raghavendra Rao asserts that similar work can be accomplished in all the vastly degraded areas of our country. A demonstration such as this was accomplished with the participation of the community. This may also have the added effect of encouraging villagers in the surrounding communities to do similar things on their lands. With a little effort one can convert unproductive lands into oases of productivity - a mission for a greener, food and water secure country.

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