Impacting Livelihoods

Impact of Watershed Development Works on Rainfed Farming

Rainfed agriculture plays an important role in India in terms of economic contribution and biodiversity and nutrition. In spite of the various benefits, rainfed farming is on the decline over years, due to reasons like inadequate policy, research and investment attention, vagaries of monsoon, and lack of effective risk management tools. In the last two decades, there has been large scale increase in fallow land, loss of livelihoods and migration. In the process, rainfed farming is losing its status as viable livelihood for many. But it is important to improve rainfed agriculture. As the growth of irrigated agriculture has reached a plateau and the ground water sources are dwindling very fast, future lies with rainfed agriculture. Enhancing food security of the nation itself would depend a lot on enhancing rainfed farming in the long run. What is more, since rainfed areas support the poorest of the poor and are home to many poor indigenous ethnic minorities, a rise in productivity in this sector would have an immediate impact on poverty alleviation.

The Government of India has accorded high priority to the holistic and sustainable development of rainfed areas and made high investments in watershed projects. One such project is Restructured National Watershed Development Project for Rainfed Areas (NWDPRA). DHAN Foundation is one of the Project Implementing Agencies for Restructured NWDPRA in Tamil Nadu. The Restructured NWDPRA scheme of tenth five year plan was started in the financial year 2002-03 and will come to an end by March 2009. An evaluation of the same was made to understand the benefits of the scheme and to identify the areas in need of improvement. The learning and recommendations emerging from the study can feed into the forth coming watershed schemes.

To address various issues of rainfed farming, Rainfed Farming Development Programme (RFDP) was initiated by DHAN Foundation, with the vision of “Making rainfed farming as a viable livelihood”. Currently the program is in the pilot stage, where in the learning gained so far would be tried out in few other locations falling in similar or different ecosystems. So it is essential to understand the significant benefits of the program, principles and practices that have led to the same and also the areas of in need of improvement. So this research study was carried out with the primary purpose of understanding the impact of RFDP of DHAN Foundation and Restructured NWDPRA.

Location: Kothur Middle Watershed

Kothur Middle Watershed, falling in Kothur and Kondakinthanapalli panchayats in Nattarampalli block of Vellore district, Tamil Nadu, was selected as the study area. Total area of this watershed is 800 ha. This pocket has undulating topography with red loamy soil of varying depth and falls in Upper Palar macro watershed. The average slope of this watershed is 5 percent. There were nine hamlets with a population of 2405 as on 2003. The study area experienced frequent deficit rainfall phenomena. The major irrigated crops were paddy, vegetables and finger millet. The major rainfed crops were groundnut, redgram, horsegram, cotton, finger millet, fodder sorghum, little millet (samai) and garden beans. Small and marginal farmers constituted ninety percent of the total farmers. Livestock was the major supporting livelihood besides beedi rolling and incense stick making. Migration for work on temporary and permanent basis was very common.

Objectives of the study

The major objectives of the study are:

  1. To document the efforts and investments done in the watershed in a systematic manner
  2. To analyse the impact of Restructured NWDPRA scheme and Rainfed Farming Development Programme in the study area
  3. To identify the policies and practices that have led to significant positive impacts and
  4. To identify the changes needed in current interventions and the need for other new interventions, to enhance the effectiveness of the watershed projects and RFDP in future.

Methods & Process followed

Process followed

Purpose and need for this study was explained to the members during watershed association Executive Committee meeting to get their consent and support.At the request of the local team one or two office bearers in each hamlet have volunteered for helping the interviewer. The volunteered office bearers ensured the availability of sample members for interviewing and also facilitated the interview process, specifically by making the sample members to share the information without hesitation. They also acted as key informants for the study and shared their experience and knowledge.Most of the information regarding the common works was given by the office bearers who have volunteered to support the study.Besides these support, the watershed community also gave boarding and lodging support to the interviewer.After the completion of the study, the results emerging from the study were shared with the watershed community to validate them and to get suggestions. The validation meeting was conducted on 1st December, 2008.


In Kothur Middle watershed, 363 farmers were organized into twenty groups as on June, 2008. As the focus of the study was impact, only members from three year old groups were taken for sample. The group and member detailsof the watershed association were collected from PIA office. All the members in above three years old groups were divided based on their landholding size. Ninety members were selected through stratified random sampling from 188 farming families, leaving out members from the same family. The members were stratified based on landholding size into four categories namely marginal farmer (up to 2.5 acres), small farmer (2.5 - 5 acres), medium farmer (5 - 10 acres) and landless.

Primary & secondary data collection

Primary data was collected through administering semi structured interview schedule to the sample members, interviewing the key informants, focused group discussion (FGD), case studies and observation. Semi-structured interview schedule was used as the activities varied across the respondents. The interview schedule for the study was pre-tested with five farmers. Based on the feedback necessary corrections were made to finalise the interview schedule. During administering the interview schedule, the land development works were visited wherever possible, to make necessary observations about the impact of those works. Experienced leaders and staffs who have been working in the watershed for long time served as key informants and gave qualitative information. The secondary data was collected from Project Implementing Agency (PIA) office and from Watershed association office, using relevant documents of Kothur Middle Watershed Association and group records.

Data analysis

Datawas analyzed through average analysis and identification of ranges. Wherever relevant projection was done for the whole watershed.


The analysis of data collected clearly indicates that there has been significant impact at the individual family level and at the village level and it is expressed in the impact profile given below. This was the case in spite of the fact that the impact of many activities, like large number of loans used for various purposes other than livestock, veterinary camps and supply of seeds and seedlings, were not considered.

Change in land use in the study area, mostly from rainfed to irrigated land, was about thirty eight percent of the total treated area.

Majority of the members, who have cultivated the same crop after land treatment in the study area, has experienced increase in productivity, irrespective of the activity with respect to groundnut, finger millet and paddy.

There was significant increase in area under paddy based cropping pattern.

Land Development works have generated additional wage employment to the tune of 1075 man days per annum on a recurrent basis. This will increase by around 100 man days soon after the study period..About sixty one percent of members have realised increase in food security, with majority of them enjoying it for three to six months.

Implementation of all Land Development works by the community itself has resulted in high level of contribution and ownership and total elimination of contractual system.

Above 50 percent contribution mobilised from members for private land works, thereby indirectly creating a fund for taking up works for large number of members, during and after the project..High levels of private investment as a response to public investment on land development works.On an average, each member family enjoyed Rs. 3550 as increase in income per year.

On an average, each member family enjoyed an increase in asset value of Rs. 52,647, with the majority of the members falling in the range of Rs. 50,000 to 1,00,000.

Creation of member owned and member run microfinance infrastructure with the total savings of Rs. 8,38,073 and with total loan outstanding of Rs. 13,41,841. Till the study period members have availed Rs. 62,63,452 as credit though 3720 loans.

Coverage of around 30 percent of the members through life insurance, livestock insurance and mutual crop income insurance products.

Significant impact of five out of six common works taken up as entry point activity, like check dam, common pond and farm roads.

High levels of womenparticipation in terms of membership, holding positions, attending capacity building events and implementation of activities. As a result their importance within the family has increased and their ability to talk in a public forum and to deal with outsiders has considerably improved.

Post project sustainability was ensured by building up of significant levels of social and financial capital, offering of large number of activities on credit and cost basis besides the grant based activities and practising of norms for cost coverage during the project period.

The policies and practices that have led to significant impact:

Effective and sustainable social structure- community organisation model:

Integration of social resource management with natural resource management.Organising user groups around credit and thrift in the shape of SHG among farmers, based on solidarity and proximity of their landholding, to avail all the advantages of SHG model, like participatory democracy in the group (as there are only twenty or less than twenty members), serving as platform for savings and credit and access to various Government schemes.

Promotion of group centred approach, with the SHG shaped user groups and SHGs acting as the foundation for organising other groups and management bodies.

Promotion of men groups: It is a general notion that only women groups are effective, both as a group and as a local bank. But experience of Kothur Middle Watershed Association (KMWA) shows that if properly promoted, men groups are as effective as women groups.

Practicing of norms for ensuring participation of women:

Specific norms for ensuring participation of women as group members and as decision makers in Executive committee of Watershed Association were evolved and practiced.

Casino approach for offering services by Watershed Associations and PIA:

Casino approach means that the members and groups would be offered a group of services and they would select a few among them based on their needs. The assumption involved is that they know their needs much better than Watershed Association Executive Committee and Project Implementing Agency. Further offering of various services was instrumental in reaching majority of the members through one service or other, thereby enhancing participation of them.

Offering of ‘repeat services':

Be it is land development work, crop production enhancement or microfinance, ‘repeat services', were offered by the Watershed Association and Project Implementing Agency and it has resulted in retaining of interest of the members in the Uzhavar Kuzhu and Watershed Association and kept them alive and dynamic, as ‘repeat loan' does in the case of SHGs.

Different approach to natural resource management:

Focusing on development of private lands:

Only if the capability of these lands is improved, any dent can be made on improving productivity of rainfed farming and in reducing the risk of losing the crop due to vagaries of monsoon.

Restricting the estimate amount of land development work taken up by one member at a point in time by fixing a maximum limit and giving preference to members seeking first work over other members seeking second and third work, to avoid concentration of benefits to few families and to ensure equity.

Livelihood- based development of natural resources

approach was chosen because this was in alignment with the perspective of the farmers and has the following advantages: 1) accommodating wide number of activities, mostly indigenous and unconventional and 2) result in livelihood enhancement, in terms of increase in food security, income and assets.

Supporting context specific activities, with preference for indigenous activities, as they can only work:

The rainfed farming contexts are so different from each other and there can be no universal solutions in terms of activities. May be the processes of identifying the issues and searching for solutions can be universal. This means that considerable investment is needed to evolve context specific program components and activities through continuous interaction with community, involving trial and error. This again requires flexibility and autonomy in program implementation.

Integration livestock development:

Livestock development was taken up as a major program component, with the focus of filling the gaps in the existing system and asset enhancement.

Integration of Microfinance for supporting rainfed farming

Integration of risk management:

Understanding the central role of risk management in rainfed farming development, risk reduction activities (like better soil and water conservation and good quality seeds), risk coping activities (like credit) and risk transfer activities (like insurance) was offered as package for effective risk management.

Engaging paid services and loan as instruments to achieve various sub-goals besides grant:

Usually grant with some minimum level of contribution is used as the main instrument to promote various RF activities. But the experience of KMWA shows that many RF activities can be taken up on cash payment and loan basis. Activities like supply of seeds, manures and seedlings were easily taken up on cash payment basis. In the same way activities like adding farm yard manure, crop diversification, and provision of inputs were taken up through loan. So necessary provision in project design need to be made for instruments, other than grant for effective and holistic implementation.

Piloting of many new activities

: Many new activities like aerobic compost, Zero budget Natural farming, Mutual crop income insurance, weather insurance, dates cultivation, etc. were piloted for their suitability to the study area.

High investment was made in capacity building of various stakeholders

Effective implementation structure- “Agency” approach:

Integrated approach across agriculture, livestock, horticulture, community organization and agricultural finance is essential to make any dent at the individual farm level. The current “agency” approach, with man power across sectors and considerable flexibility to access specialized man power was found effective to achieve this integration.

Autonomy to Project Implementing Agency and support of District Watershed Development Agency:

Many of the interventions of KMWA became possible only because the PIA had adequate autonomy and through the timely support of DWDA in facilitating new interventions like wheat and maize introduction in the study area.


For the watershed scheme:

The following policy changes are needed in flagship schemes meant for development of rainfed areas like Restructured NWDPRA, to make rainfed farming a viable livelihood.

Making it mandatory that User Group (UG) should be organised around credit and thrift activity as per their social affinity and compatibility, even if they are to mange a particular community asset.

Making it mandatory that SHG shaped user groups and SHGs should act as the foundation for organising other groups and management bodies.

Focusing of investments on private rainfed land by design, in a contextually relevant manner.

Making it mandatory to adopt livelihood- based development of natural resources.

Supporting context specific activities, with a preference for indigenous activities by design.

Provision of wide range of services on a repeat basis by design, to ensure reaching to majority of the families and to ensure retention of interest of the members and to give continuity to Community Based Orgnaisations (CBOs).

Integrating livestock development, microfinance and risk management as part of all schemes meant for developing rainfed areas.

As there was high disparity across the member type, with the benefits increasing with landholding size, preferential terms are needed for the resource poor. At least 30 percent fund can be allocated exclusively for resource poor families and for women specific agenda, as tried out in Andhra Pradesh Rural Livelihood Project.

As the funds provided for NRM activities from Restructured NWDPRA was not adequate for meeting the needs of all members for land development activities, additional fund could be allocated based on demand and approved action plan.

Ensuring institutionalisation of CBOs formed with the support of watershed schemes through ensuring meaningful linkages with banks, agriculture, horticulture and animal husbandry departments during the project period and in the post project period. Here too the need and decision related to linkage has to come from the CBOs and should not follow the usual supply dominant mode. For example the bankable rainfed farming interventions, like plough animals purchase, could be funded by credit institutions from the second year based on demand from the community without any target.

The fund allocation design usually allows some trial and demonstration related to agriculture technologies. But experimentation and piloting is needed in all spheres of intervention as shown by the KMWA experience. So fund allocation design to be changed accordingly.

Involvement of autonomous institutions at various levels with watershed works as the main agenda. There need to be adequate autonomy at each level of implementation to evolve, design and implement various interventions.

For the Rainfed Farming Development Programme:

  1. Improving recording of purpose of loans taken by members and monitoring utilisation of loans is needed, so that their impact can be ensured and known. This will also bring self regulation at member and group level with respect to utilisation of loans for the purpose they have borrowed.
  2. Records need to be kept regarding members availing services like veterinary camp, seed supply, etc. so that the impact information can be collected later.
  3. In spite of no discrimination based on land holding and gender, there was disparity in benefits realised across the member type, with the benefits increasing with landholding size. So novel interventions should be piloted to enhance equity of benefits.
  4. The list of members who have not benefited need to be prepared and in depth study to be made to know the reasons. Based on the results, necessary interventions to be made to ensure realisation of benefits by them.
  5. The members of new groups need to be given preferential treatment over old members in the immediate future.
  6. Insurance education to be taken up on a large scale to reach large number of members.
  7. Investment on good activities like aerobic composting, Zero Budget Natural Farming and azolla cultivation for fodder to be increased to reach more members.

Land development brings new life to rainfed farming

Mrs. Manikammal is a 52 years-old woman farmer. She has three children, two male and one female and living in Gandhinagar hamlet in Kothur middle watershed and her daughter got married. She is living with two sons and daughter-in-law. She is taking care of her family and agriculture, because her husband died in 2003. She is a marginal farmer with 0.75 acres of land. In 2003, she had 0.24 acres of irrigated land, 0.21 acres of rainfed land and another 0.20 acres of uncultivable barren land.

She came to know about Uzhavar Kuzhu activities and joined in Mariyamman Uzhavar Kuzhu at Gandhinagar in 2004. To increase production and income from her land she has taken up the land levelling work in 0.20 acres of uncultivable barren land in 2006 with a grant support of Rs. 4,570 from watershed association and own investment of Rs.15,000.Besides that she also invested Rs. 9,000 in laying pipes.Aftertreatment she had cultivated paddy two seasons. After that she has applied 21 loads of tank silt for enhancing the productivity of the land. For that she has received a grant support of Rs.1334 and her own investment was Rs. 5000. Later she cultivated tomato in that plot. In 2007 she has taken up another land levelling work in 0.21 acres of rainfed lands with a grant support of Rs. 4166 and own investment of Rs. 5000. Before this treatment she used to cultivate groundnut, ragi and red gram but after the treatment she has cultivated paddy.

With all these interventions she has converted all her land into irrigated land through land development works and she is planning to do continuous cultivation throughout the year. For that she has bought plough animals worth of Rs. 25,000 on her own. So, a total investment of Rs. 69,070 was made in her farm of which Rs. 10,070 was grant and Rs. 59,000 was her own investment. She is yet to enjoy the full benefits of her effects. The benefits she has taken up rice cultivation that helped meet food requirements of not only to her family but also to her daughter's family. She has earned Rs. 6000 by selling paddy straw. She is expecting income from standing tomato crop. Her first son stopped migrating aboard as adequate work in the farm and in hiring out ploughing services. All other family members were also engaged in their farm to a large extent. She gave 60 man days of employment during land development works at a wage rate of Rs.120/man day. She is also generating 30 man days of employment every season through cultivating paddy crop at a wage rate of Rs.40/man day.

On sharing her point on the reason for significantly investing on her farm she said that “I knew about land levelling; but I didn't do it due to fear of large investment. But after joining the group I was motivated by how other members have benefited from land development works and the grant support available from watershed association for land levelling, which I very much wanted to do. Even though I invested significant amount of money, due to that now I have 0.75 acres of irrigated land and could able to cultivate paddy crop”.

The Animal Power

Mr. C.Nagan is a 52 years old farmer living in Kannalaparai kolli hamlet, in Kothur middle watershed. He is a marginal farmer and agricultural labourer. He has two children. His daughter got married and his son is immobilised due to brain fever. For treating his son, he has spent a lot of money. But the condition of his son did not improve. He became indebted and sold part of his land to pay back the debts that he incurred for his son's medical expenses. As his wife has to take care of their son, he is the only bread winner in the family.

He had 1.75 acres of rainfed land and he used to cultivated groundnut, ragi, horsegram and cumbu in his land. He also cultivates chilly and tomato in very small plots. Whatever he gets from his field goes for family consumption. He has joined Omshakti Uzhavar Kuzhu at Ottrupadi four years back and taken up the stone bunding work in his land with a grant support of Rs. 4,000 from association and an own investment of Rs. 5,000. For urgent needs he used to get loans in the group. From his group he has availed 13 loans amounting to Rs. 22,424. The purpose of loans taken includes household expenditures, outside debt redemption and agriculture.

Long back he had bought plough animals through a loan taken from a local co-operative society and was hiring out ploughing services on wage basis. But he was not able to pay back the co-operative loan as per schedule due to cash flow problems. Due to pressure from the co-operative later he sold the plough animals and repaid the loan in full. After that he was not able to purchase plough animals and so founded difficult to hire ploughing services for cultivating his land and also not able to earn income through hiring out ploughing services.

He has availed Rs. 10,000 loan from the group in 2006 for purchasing young plough animals just ready for ploughing. The cost of animals was Rs.12,000. Through plough animals he could save an amount of Rs.1,962 per year through ploughing his own field and he could also able to earn around Rs. 9,912 per year as net income. He was able to do repeated ploughing in his land and sow in time. He used to plough seven times for groundnut crop. But if he did not own plough animal, he used to plough only twice or thrice, as he could not afford to pay in cash. During ploughing and sowing season he becomes a much sought after person by the community. This is particularly applicable for the groundnut farmers as groundnut can be sown only with a support of plough animals.

He used to get two loads of Farm Yard Manure per year worth of Rs. 2,000, which is used in his own land. He has completely repaid the loan as per schedule. The value of plough animals at present is Rs. 25,000 and so it can be considered that the asset value of the family has increased by Rs. 25,000. So the plough animal loan has resulted in significant enhancement of his livelihood through assured employment during sowing period, considerably increase in family income, timely land preparation and sowing and considerably increase in asset value.

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