Pingori is a small village situated in the Sahyadri mountain ranges in the Western Ghats, about 66km from Pune, known for its Wagheshwari temple and rich cultural history. The rainy season brings out the natural beauty of this village, located in rain shadow areas of this mountain range. But the annual rainfall is inadequate to meet the farming needs of the 1,300-odd villagers.
The main occupation here is farming and according to Baba Shinde, past president of Rotary Club of Aundh, Pune, RI District 3131, which has adopted and dramatically transformed this village and its water bodies, the average landholding of the local farmers is barely 1–2 acres. With limited water availability the farmers have been growing only bajra, jowar and common vegetables, as the available water is inadequate for paddy cultivation. Very little wheat is grown here.
In 2014, the desperate water situation in Pingori village was brought to the notice of the members of RC Aundh. “There was acute shortage of even drinking water for both the villagers as well as their milch animals in summer, a dire situation as milk provides the main source of income and sustenance for the villagers. Every year, there was water shortage for irrigation after February as its wells and odhas used to dry up due to the low water table in this village, which has an annual rainfall of 400mm, inadequate to take care of the village’s farming needs. The farmers could hardly cultivate one crop, and there was no grazing grass for the cows and buffalos adversely affecting the milk production in the village,” says Shinde.
Two huge water tanks to store 2.5 crore litres and 4 crore litres of water built at a cost of ₹78 lakh through club’s 1st global grant
There was no health facility for the villagers either, and the local school had no computer facility to improve the teaching quality for students. Students, including girls, had to walk long distances, from 3 to 5km, to come to school. With income levels abysmally low, the villagers could hardly give any attention to cleanliness and hygiene.
RC Aundh decided to adopt Pingori village under its Happy Villages programme in 2014, setting about in right earnest to focus on its first priority to improve the water situation. The club took the help of Meena Borate, who was then leading the WASH team of RID 3131. With assistance from Dutta Deshkar, a member of RC Aundh, it was decided to reconstruct the check dam on Darjibuwacha Nala which was in a damaged condition. Under the leadership of then club president Pravin Lakhe, the members, along with the Pingori gram panchayat, raised the required sum of ₹5.5 lakh for this project. After the dam was rebuilt, it could store nearly 30 lakh litres of water in the very first rainy season. Thanks to this initiative, many wells in the surrounding farms got recharged and the water table in the entire zone increased significantly. This helped farmers in surrounding areas to go in for the second or the rabi crop.
Having tasted sweet success with its very first water project, the enthused club members took up a tree plantation drive during 2015–16, and next year, the challenge of arresting the run-off of water from this hilly terrain by building trenches along the slopes to hold the water and allow it to seep into the ground, instead of running off in a continuous stream.
Explains past president of RC Aundh Ravindra Ulangwar, “Since Pingori village is located on large hilly slopes, the rainwater runs off, and doesn’t get into the ground. So we undertook a project to arrest this water and soak it into the ground, by establishing what are called continuous counter trenches on the foot hills of Pingori.”
During 2016–17, the club went in for its first global grant project, under the leadership of RC Pune Hillside, along with other partner clubs such as RCs Pune Kothrud and Mahad. Under this unique GG project, two huge water storage tanks, with a capacity to store 4 crore and 2.5 crore litres of water each, were developed. Borate, a member of RC Pune Hills, with the help of her friend Mansi Nadkarni (originally from Pune), brought RC Muscatine, US, RID 8000, as an international partner for this GG. The project was done by RC Aundh under the leadership of Fora Diwanji, the club’s first woman president.
A special drive to plant 15,000 trees
This unique project was completed at a cost of ₹78 lakh, with the NGO Janhit Patsanstha, contributing a substantial sum of ₹17 lakh. The constant challenge while doing all water projects in Pingori was to conserve the maximum amount of water and prevent its loss in any and every possible way. “We realised the need for developing in this village a sustainable water source. So during the construction of these two water tanks, special treatment was given to the bottom surface of the tank to prevent water seepage.” Umesh Naik, a member of RC Pune Hillside, used his expertise in waterproofing to make both these tanks watertight and prevent water loss. These water tanks proved to be the lifeline of the village, and now provide a year-long source of water for both drinking and irrigation, he adds.
The Dagduseth Halwai temple in Pune also supported Pingori village to carry out the desilting of the Ganesh Sagar lake, which additionally helped preserve lakhs of litres of rainwater. Now the farmers of Pingori were able to go comfortably for a second crop during the rabi season increasing their farm income.
In subsequent years, RC Aundh implemented a cleanliness drive, along with a mega tree plantation drive, planting over 5,000 trees. They even conducted medical check-up camps for the villagers, with focus on arresting malnutrition, vitamin and iron deficiency in women. Several farmers were diagnosed with cataract and also had dental problems. Now a health centre has been opened in the village and basic health problems are taken care of there.
Now it was time for the Rotarians to turn their attention to girl students studying in the Wagheshwari school, who had to walk between 3 and 5km to attend school. This naturally led to high rates of absenteeism in girl students. So the club started giving bicycles to girls; the initiative began under the presidentship of Hemant Choudhary (2014–15) and was continued by his successor Ulangwar the next year. Till now around 300 bicycles have been given to the girls and this has improved their retention rate. When the beneficiaries pass out, the bicycles are passed on to the junior students, so that a bigger number of girls can get access to education. Rotaract Club of Aundh has also donated bicyles to girl students coming from far away.
Once sufficient water reserves were available in the village, judicious and optimum use of that water had to be assured so that its benefits could be far reaching. It helped that in 2017–18, Baba Shinde, who originally hails from Pingori village, became the club president. Under his leadership, the further greening of Pingori and improving the villagers’ lifestyle took place. With help from Sandesh Sawant from RC Pune Sports City, the club jointly implemented a drip irrigation system project, which was done through a global grant with RC Fort Collins Breakfast from Colorado, US, RID 5440, as the international partner. This project, meant to benefit a large number of farmers, was done over a 40-acre area, and it enabled many small and marginal farmers to grow vegetables and other rabi crops.
Shinde explains that the average landholding in Pingori is only around one acre, and wihout help to augment the region’s water resources, the small and marginal farmers had really been struggling to make ends meet earlier.
He continued the mega tree plantation drive that was undertaken by their club in 2015–16 during the tenure of president Deepak Toshniwal on the hill slopes on the outskirts of the Pingori area. Past president Shinde says these are mainly native varieties and shade giving trees, which need less water and which have helped to arrest the erosion of top layers of the soil during monsoons and also to retain water. Over a period of time some 15,000 custard apple trees were planted and the Rotarians are helping the farmers to market the fruits in Pune.
The same year RC Aundh also established a computer lab with 10 desktop computers and internet facility at the Wagheshwari school, provided necessary furniture and upgraded the lab room with the required civil engineering work. This facility was created in memory of PDG Subhash Saraf from the donation made by his family.
Next came an endeavour for the environment; with help from RC Pune West and Dr Satish Pande, the Ela Habitat bird sanctuary was set up at an eight-acre plot, where nearly 30,000 litres of water are saved every month thanks to the water conservation measures taken by these Rotarians. “This sanctuary is home to about 250 indigenous varieties of trees and 48 species of birds. Thanks to the water bodies, animals such as foxes, hyenas and chinkaras, among others, come here to drink water. Specially designed water dispensers are kept under the trees for squirrels and rodents. This habitat has also established a medical facility for villagers.”
Farmers’ income for every litre of milk has gone up from ₹28 to ₹33
Today, Pingori has been transformed into a happy village and water tankers, which were a necessity here to meet the people’s water needs, are no longer required. Having made Pingori water sufficient, and upgrading the school and arresting school dropouts, especially among girls, the Rotarians of Pune turned their attention to helping farmers market their produce. This was possible as Pingori is barely 60km from a big city like Pune, where there is perennial demand for fresh vegetables and milk.
In 2018–19, under the leadership of club president Dr Prashant Khankhoje, Shinde, who is now the RCC chairman, took one more path-breaking initiative, by starting an outlet at Amanora Park in Pune to sell Pingori farmers’ produce, such as fruits, vegetables and milk. “Amanora Park is one of the largest gated communities in Pune. This outlet received very good response from the residents of the area as the vegetables and fruits were both fresh and of very good quality,” says Ulangwar. A spin-off effect was that this initiative, apart from giving Pingori’s farmers a good price for their produce, also helped give employment to several youngsters from Pingori, who bring the produce from the village to Pune.
With the outlet being called ‘Pingori Farm outlet’, it also created a brand for the farmers’ produce. As dairy farming is one of the major activities in the village, the Rotarians have also donated 25 cows to the villagers and a common shed at a cost of ₹24 lakh under Project Kamadhenu to augment their milk production.
While all was going well for the villagers of Pingori, they were hit hard by the Covid pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns post-March 2020. Its impact was particularly devastating for the farmers of Pingori as they depended entirely on the Pune market to sell their farm produce such as fruits, vegetables and milk. They lost their most stable source of income. Once again, the godfathers of this village — Rotarians from RC Aundh — came to their rescue by buying vegetables and fruits directly from the farmers by forming a Whatsapp group through which members could place their orders. Youth from the village would deliver the vegetables, fruits and milk twice a week. Due to the freshness and good quality of the produce, these became very popular and many non-Rotarians also started ordering this produce. The volume increased and slowly a team of youngsters from Pingori started bringing the produce in a tempo and displaying it at the Akashganga society in Aundh twice a day. This mobile service also became very popular as citizens could get high- quality vegetables and fruits at very reasonable prices at their doorsteps.
As the pandemic conditions improved, the sale of fresh leafy vegetables and fruits such pomegranate, guava, papaya, etc from the Pingori outlet soared. The milk produced by the dairy farmers was also a big hit, and the volume soared as the Pune market could easily absorb Pingori’s quality produce. In 2020–21, under the presidentship of Kukund Surkutwar, one more Pingori Farms outlet was started in another prominent locality of Pune expanding the farmers’ direct market linkage. By now the Rotarians had encouraged Pingori’s women to add value to their wares by preparing delicious home-made food items. So along with providing employment to the youngsters engaged in transporting and marketing the farmers’ output, the Rotarians were helping the women too.
It was now time to set up a permanent shop for the Pingori produce. “Along with Baba Shinde I took the initiative, and we told the members that whoever is interested in investing in such a shop can contribute ₹2 lakh. Eight Rotarians came forward and with ₹16 lakh we set up a permanent shop and Rohit Shinde, who is in his late 20s, came forward to manage this shop and moved to Pune.”
“Without any investment, we gave him a managing partnership of 50 per cent in the shop; slowly we are giving him more responsibility to spread this initiative to other localities in Pune,” says Ulangwar. The products now come nicely packed bearing the Pingori Farms label and this has now become a popular brand in the city.
Rohit Shinde, who manages this outlet, is happy to expand his horizon by shifting from Pingori to Pune. With a degree in engineering, earlier he used to work in a small shop in the village, while also farming on his two-acre land. He used to grow jowar, bajra, pulses, custard apple and had even fig trees. His total income used to be ₹20,000 a month. He now gets ₹20,000 a month for managing the Pingori outlet, and also 50 per cent share from the profits.
CSR grant of ₹42.1 lakh from IT major ATOS for the club’s Kamadhenu project
Adds Shinde: “Today this shop sells fresh vegetables, fruits, grocery items and cereals from Pingori, apart from providing home delivery to customers. The Pingori shop is equipped with modern gadgets like the POS system, electronic weighing machines with in-built billing memo, and powered by digital payments systems like Gpay, debit and credit cards. This initiative has resulted in all-round growth for Pingori village increasing the farmers’ income, generating employment for some youngsters.” The women’s self-help group here has also benefitted as they are supplying homemade foods like pappads, sevai, pickles, chutneys etc to these outlets. Milk is also collected and processed from farmers daily to distribute in Pune city, along with Pingori ghee, paneer and curd.
But it is milk which is the most stable and fast-moving item in this outlet. Each outlet sells around 50 litres a day of milk produced by the Pingori farmers. Says Rohit, “We pay the farmers ₹33–35 per litre of milk, and after processing it, sell it at ₹56 a litre, taking into consideration the transportation and processing cost. There is demand for the Pingori milk because its quality is very good. The farmers are happy because earlier they used to get only ₹28 per litre; now they earn at least ₹5 extra for every one litre they produce.”
Witnessing Pingori’s development, former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis visited Pingori in 2019 and gave it an award as an adarsh gram.
Pingori’s happy march continues with the club, under its present president Bhavana Ulangwar, donating water tanks for both drinking water and toilets at the Wagheshwari school. Shinde adds that recently, along with RC Pune Sports City, RC Aundh received a CSR grant for ₹42.1 lakh from a leading IT firm ATOS, for its Kamadheu project at Pingori. Under this project, 25 marginal women farmers will be gifted a cow each and the cows will be jointly reared in the common cowshed by a self-help group formed by these beneficiaries. The cowshed will be equipped with solar power and a milking machine. The income generated by the sale of milk from this project will be shared equally by all the beneficiary women, to make them economically self-reliant.
Bhoomi pooja for the cowshed was conducted last year by the then RID 3131 governor Pankaj Shah, and work will begin soon.
Shinde, whose ties with Pingori village remain robust, and who visits it once a week, says “the transformation of Pingori village and its inhabitants into economically self-reliant people is a wonderful example of the happy village concept in the Rotary world. It also demonstrates how complete transformation of a village can be achieved with consistent and sustainable efforts by Rotary clubs, who take villagers and other stakeholders as their partners.”