IN the water-starved, drought-prone Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh, Jakhani village stands out as an oasis of prosperity. Wheat, rice, mustard, gram, pigeon pea and other crops flourish in this village of 2,000 people, located 20-odd km from the district headquarters of Banda. The six ponds and 33 wells in the village are full to the brim throughout the year and there is no scarcity of irrigation water either. Jakhani’s transformation from a parched to a water-abundant village happened over the past decade and a half through the initiative of 51-year-old farmer Umashankar Pandey, who launched the ‘Khet mein medd, medd par pedd (Trees on weirs in farms)’ programme in 2005. It drastically improved water availability in the village through various measures, such as raising farm bunds, developing farm ponds, rejuvenating water bodies and intensive tree plantation.
Some 500 families lived in Jakhani two decades ago. With water scarcity endangering farm livelihoods, more than half the families migrated. As the village struggled to find a solution to the crisis, the enterprising Pandey, in April 2005, got an invite and attended a water conservation seminar in New Delhi, where then-president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam spoke about creating ‘Jalgrams’, or villages that practise water-harvesting. “I decided to develop Jakhani into a ‘Jalgram’,” says Pandey.
In November 2005, Pandey visited the Deendayal Upadhyay Krishi Vigyan Kendra in Chitrakoot and some villages to study water-harvesting. Back home, he roped in others to build bunds on 30 acres of farmland to hold the scant rainwater the village received. The next year, he and other farmers planted pigeon pea, lemon and guava trees on the bunds. “The trees not only strengthened the weirs but prevented rainwater from running off. Suddenly, the traditionally wheat-growing fields had abundant water, allowing us to cultivate basmati rice,” says Pandey.
In 2007, Jakhani produced over 150 quintals of basmati rice and sold it at Rs 3,000 a quintal. As farm incomes increased, those who had migrated started returning. Over 200 families have come back since then, and the village now has 421 farmer families. Together, they have built bunds on 1,500 acres of farmland, without any funding from the government, planted trees on them, and are using the water conserved for irrigation. The farms remain water-fed for most part of the year.
The effort has produced remarkable results. Last year, Jakhani produced 25,000 quintals of basmati rice, creating income of about Rs 10 crore. “Two decades ago, not a single crop would grow in our village. Today, not only basmati rice, we are also cultivating onion, tomato, brinjal, chilli and other vegetables,” says Pandey.
Water conservation has also improved groundwater levels. A September 2020 report by the state minor irrigation department notes an average 1.3 metre rise in groundwater in Banda district over the past five years. The highest increase, by 3 metres, was recorded in Mahua block under which Jakhani village falls. Pandey says groundwater, which was at 70 ft in the village in 2005, can be presently found at 45 feet.
Jakhani’s success has been recognised by the NITI Aayog. ‘Jakhani village serves as an excellent example of village water-budgeting modelled around collection and storage of rainwater within the village boundaries and using it for life protection and economic development,’ says the Aayog’s ‘Composite Water Management Index’ report in 2019. The same year, the Banda district magistrate’s office announced that the Jakhani model would be tried in 470 villages in the district. Around 200 villages have been covered so far. State Jal Shakti minister Dr Mahendra Singh has bigger plans. “We will extend the model to 1,000 water-deficient villages. A detailed plan is being prepared,” he says.
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