Globally, groundwater is treated as a CPR (Common Property Resource), with exceptionally high use value. Countries like the United States, Indonesia, Peru, and Australia have legalized groundwater as a public good, unlike India, where it is regarded as private property. Additionally, groundwater as a resource in India is linked with land ownership rights, leading to overexploitation and degradation of the resource. It is well known that groundwater is India’s single largest source of fresh water, and in a country like ours, it is used for irrigation and all other domestic and essential needs. Therefore, it is imperative to understand the dynamics of groundwater resources, the implementation and enforcement of groundwater development, and its sustainable management in the country. As the resource is privately managed, there is often huge inequity and injustice in gaining access to groundwater. It is usual to study groundwater through the lens of hydrogeology and the socio-economic status of the communities involved. Nevertheless, looking at the sustainability aspect of groundwater management is extremely significant. This piece attempts to compile the sustainable community practices involved in groundwater management in Andhra Pradesh.
Andhra Pradesh Farmer-Managed Groundwater Systems (APFAMGS) The first case of participatory groundwater management is based on the Andhra Pradesh Farmer-Managed Groundwater Systems (APFAMGS) project. It is one of the longest-running community-driven groundwater resource development and management program. Over the years, it has successfully engaged the community and made them aware of sustainable groundwater management practices to avoid droughts. The impact of its achievement was felt when it spread to over 650 villages from 7 drought-prone districts across Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. The origin of APFAMGS was from APWELL, which was started in 1987. The Government of India initiated the APWELL (Andhra Pradesh Groundwater Bore-well) project in collaboration with the Netherlands Government. APWELL was implemented in 7 districts across AP, namely Chittoor, Cuddapah, Kurnool, Nalgonda, Anantapur, Prakasam, and Mahbubnagar. One of APWELL’s essential objectives was to improve the socio-economic status and the quality of life for small and marginal farmers in the specified locations. However, APFAMGS aimed at improving groundwater capacity for agriculture and crop production through community practices.
The project was designed and operated through a participatory approach called participatory hydrological monitoring (PHM). APFAMGS, through its PHM strategy, attempts to change the behaviour of farmers towards the development and management of the resource. The project focused on equipping the farmers with the required awareness, skills, and knowledge through training to manage groundwater resources sustainably. Providing the farmers with an understanding of the local groundwater situation in their region and demarcating the hydrological units in use helped convince them that practices like pumping out groundwater and digging new wells would worsen the situation. Furthermore, this was also useful in changing their perspective about groundwater as a public resource rather than someone’s private property. These measures were worthwhile in enhancing farmers’ cooperation in making them aware of water-saving techniques and other sustainable practices. The awareness about water-saving techniques promotes a voluntary behavioural change in the farmers wherein they come to a consensus to use water efficiently, thereby analyzing and managing their own demand and building resilience for dry seasons. One of the other noteworthy activities of the APFAMGS is crop water budgeting (CWB), a joint exercise for farmers to plan crop production based on water availability in the region. This incredible community practice encourages collective decision-making. CWB, as an activity, displays the importance of community knowledge, increasing the responsibility of managing groundwater as a common good. Skills provided during training help make informed decisions about groundwater, and CWB offers an opportunity for the farmers to change their behaviour towards the resource. A village groundwater committee was formed to promote crop diversification, incorporate other changing production practices, and for governing purposes. Thus, APFAMGS demonstrates the need for equity in using shared resources such as groundwater with complex land-water interlinkages. The initiative has established the need for adopting location-specific participatory methods to increase community awareness and knowledge about groundwater management.
Social Regulations in Water Management (SRWM)
The current case is based on the Social Regulations in Water Management (SRWM), an action project at the Community Level in AP. In the project’s initial phase, it was implemented in 4 villages, and as the project progressed, its scope expanded across 15 more villages in AP. The project transformed the livelihoods of these village communities and has reduced migration in the area to a tremendous extent. Though regular rainwater irrigation is the most common method used to irrigate agricultural fields, groundwater plays a substantial role in irrigating the fields during dry periods. Subsequently, numerous borewells were dug out across these villages, and the groundwater level reached a point where further extraction was restricted owing to the rapidly declining groundwater level. This dependency on groundwater affected the socio-economic status and livelihoods of farmers from these villages as they started taking loans to dig new wells. As the condition of these villages was becoming uncontrollable, a series of meetings were set up by the Center for World Solidarity (CWS) in partnership with local civil society organizations, thus, initiating SRWM in 2004. SRWM focuses on building community resilience against droughts and promoting efficient water management for all with the support of the local government and NGOs. The project incorporated Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) methods to analyze the groundwater situation and its various uses. The primary objective of SRWM is to manage groundwater so that everyone has equal or at least minimum access to water for essential purposes. The project aims to engage the community and Panchayat Raj Institutions to decentralize decision-making and vouch for policy-driven community practices. As a result, the community has agreed upon the “social regulation,” wherein there is equitable access to groundwater for all. Hence, the project has successfully increased groundwater levels by educating the community about groundwater resource knowledge and changing their perception that it is a common property resource.
Now, the community members share the common benefit from the resource. This has also led to conserving the resources keeping in mind the community’s best interest. Farmers believe that the help of scientific knowledge has enhanced their practices, which is vital in changing the groundwater situation in their area. As a result, this has increased the expanse of agricultural land in the area, and the communities are slowly moving towards producing less water-intensive crops to save water. Some key takeaways from this case are: prioritizing water usage for essential purposes, stocktaking of water resources, water-saving cropping patterns, and participatory groundwater monitoring mechanisms that set norms for water regulation. These achievements have positively impacted the lives of people from these villages by bringing an elevation to their socio-economic conditions.
Andhra Pradesh Drought Adaptation Initiative Project (APDAI)
The final case is based on the Andhra Pradesh Drought Adaptation Initiative (APDAI), again a program to address the situation of frequent droughts in the state. The origin of the project was established in 2005 when the World Bank wanted to study the cause and consequences of the state’s drought problem. The study recommended that locally based solutions be adopted to mitigate droughts and improve climate resilience. Consequently, the government of AP launched the APDAI as a pilot project in the subsequent year in the most drought-prone districts of the state – Anantpur, and Mahbubnagar. The World Bank financed the project’ in 6 villages in the Mahbubnagar district. The second phase absorbed nine more villages from the same district alongside ten villages from the Anantpur district. Another reason for implementing the pilot in these districts was that they heavily relied on groundwater and grew water-intensive crops such as rice. Therefore, there was a crucial need to create alternative livelihoods for these communities by helping them create better production systems and judicious use of common pool resources.
APDAI’s challenges in these districts were similar to that of APFAMGS and SWRM in terms of equal access to water for all households, crop diversification, and the need for other livelihood opportunities. In order to resolve these issues, an integrated participatory approach was required to include all stakeholders, village institutions, and the local government. Furthermore, APDAI wanted to install the idea of sharing groundwater as a CPR through solid local leadership from all levels of government, namely, the Mandals, districts, and the state government. A portion of the project’s success can be attributed to the local grassroots-level organizations that facilitated the planning, implementing, and monitoring processes. Besides, they also played a significant role in mobilizing the community through Self Help Groups that provided representation and support on behalf of the communities. This sign of inclusion of even the poorest of people from these drought-prone villages was a critical factor in managing the natural resources in the region.
Farmers, marginalized people, community representatives, village institution representatives, and government representatives come together for a dialogue to adopt efficient solutions for managing groundwater water resources. Soon after, the villages adopted micro-irrigation techniques that expanded the agricultural area and the crop yield. Likewise, the community enforced a complete ban on digging new wells and discouraged groundwater pumping, reducing it by 25 to 30%, saving groundwater and electricity. Additionally, technical and financial support was offered to the communities for livelihood diversification resulting in the adaptation of resilient climate measures, which focuses on conserving and regenerating natural resources. Hence, the APDAI strategy is an excellent example of good governance in drylands that engages with the local communities for sustainable development of natural resources and agricultural management.
In this issue of Community Conservancy, we discuss the impact of Community-Based Groundwater Management across different geographical locations in Andhra Pradesh. All the cases describe groundwater beyond its capacity. It was becoming difficult for the community to cope as water availability decreased by the day, and the status of groundwater in these areas was pathetic. The programs mentioned above are designed to mitigate droughts and fight dry spells in arid and semi-arid regions like these villages in AP. The strategies of the programs have brought awareness to the farmers in managing groundwater. These programs have united the community to a large extent and have made them realize that ‘groundwater’ is a shared resource. Moreover, these participatory models of groundwater management have helped the communities access groundwater and conserve it for future use. Therefore, community practices for groundwater management in Andhra Pradesh have efficiently provided sustainable, equal, and equitable access to groundwater resources.
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