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Nov 10, 2008

Once a drought prone village, Gawdewadi in western India has now shot into limelight owing to planned watershed development in the area. Assisted by a local NGO in land management and forest conservation, several migrant families have returned to their abandoned fields.

On October 13, 2008, Gawdewadi village in the Ambegaon taluka of western Maharashtra was bedecked with fresh garlands, paper streamers and huge banners welcoming President Pratibha Patil. "There cannot be any bigger recognition of our efforts than a visit by the president," commented Deputy Sarpanch Suresh Gawde a few hours before the scheduled visit.

So what were the efforts that Gawde had referred to? Among many, the biggest achievement that Gawdewadi can lay claim to is reverse migration. So far, around 150 farmer families from this village who had moved to neighbouring cities like Pune and Mumbai in search of work have come back to their abandoned homes and fields in Gawdewadi to begin new, and secured, lives. The village has a population of only about 3,000 and therefore the return of so many families over the years is notable indeed.

The process of reverse migration started in 1992 when the first of these families came back to take advantage of the watershed development project undertaken in this semi-arid area by the village elders in collaboration with a Pune-based NGO called Vanarai.

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"Once the positive effects of watershed development were seen for real, an increasing number of families decided to give up their jobs in the cities and take up farming once again," says Prakash Jagtap, Project Director of Vanarai.

Gawdewadi has a total land area of 1,243 hectares out of which only 878 hectares is suited for agriculture. In the absence of an assured source of water, it was declared a drought prone village prior to its transformation into a watershed village.

With agricultural lands having become heavily eroded and the annual rainfall limited to not more than 250 mm, Gawdewadi had nothing to offer by way of income generation, especially since almost everyone is a land holder.

Community practice

Over the last three decades, however, it has been a different story. It was in the eighties that the villagers initiated a watershed development programme with inspiration from social activist Anna Hazare of Ralegan Siddhi.

"The primary task was to motivate the villagers to accept the policy of conservation by controlled grazing and prevention of tree felling. They were also convinced to use voluntary labour for building a rivulet flowing along the village and gradually participated in afforestation, maintenance of community lands, and pasture development," Jagtap informs.

As a result of well-planned watershed development, a huge portion of the land has been brought under orchard cultivation that has emerged as a major source of revenue and part of the land is being used for multiple cropping. With the distribution of improved seeds of various crops, improved soil and water management, the crop has increased significantly in the village.

With a view to conserve forest resources, which are already scarce, Vanarai has promoted the installation of biogas plants and improved chulhas in the village. Presently, there are about 175 biogas plants and most of the houses use smokeless wood stoves.

Most importantly, the village has become a major milk collection centre with 11 co-operatives. "Our milk collection has shot up from 1,200 litres daily a decade ago to 12,000 litres per day now," says Sarpanch Meena Gawde.

"All this happened because the villagers have constructed over 30 types of tanks and dams. These include percolation tanks, contour bunding, customised models of bunding etc. Of the 830 hectares of land for irrigation, nearly 85 hectares have been brought under horticulture while 720 hectares get water through irrigation," Jagtap adds.

But obviously, Gawdewadi is now an address to reckon with for the villagers who take great pride in the turn-around of their fortunes. "I was working as a driver in Mumbai and my monthly earning of Rs 2,000 was too meagre to make ends meet. When I learnt that bunds had been built and there was no shortage of water in the village, I decided to return to the village and take up farming once more. I now earn up to Rs 12,000 per month," Avinash Gawde narrates.

Similar is the story of Namdev Gawde whose banana farms have earned him Rs three lakhs in just a single season. "Gawdewadi today is a role model. There was a time when the fields were lying barren. Today, we cultivate wheat, groundnuts, mangoes, custard apples and even coconuts that require huge amounts of water," Meena Gawde points out. The presidential honour is therefore well deserved.

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