Driving through the lush green fields in these villages in Krishnagiri, about 270km from Chennai, it is difficult to imagine that only a few years ago, these were barren patches, where the farmers were struggling with insufficient water to raise their crops.
But today, thanks to a global grant partnership between RC Madras Coromandel, RID 3232, RC Stavanger International, Norway, and TRF, this is a verdant oasis with lush paddy fields nourished by abundant water resources. This partnership has resulted in a watershed and integrated rural development project in these villages with help from NABARD and NAF. It has benefitted 15,000 villagers in about 2,800 households, says project chairman G Balasubrahmaniam (Bala).
This area has now become a symbol of hope, overflowing with life and vitality. It is a testament to what can be achieved when people come together and work towards a common goal.
In 2011, RC Madras Coromandel participated in a UNICEF initiative to build 150 home toilets in Kuppachiparai, one of the larger villages in this group, along with two other neighbouring villages, with each toilet costing ₹10,000. UNICEF’s share was 50 per cent of the cost. Krishnan, the panchayat chief, along with few other villagers, pitched in with 40 per cent of the cost, and “our club agreed to sponsor the remaining 10 per cent,” says Bala who was then the president-elect of the club. “We had just then raised ₹15 lakh from a World Music show in Chennai. Our club member Jeeva R suggested supporting this project. We contributed the money and the toilets came up.”
After a year, when Bala visited Kuppachiparai to see how this project was benefitting the villagers, he was shocked to see that the toilets were being used as storerooms. The reason was that there was no water to maintain the toilets, and the villagers were not able to find water even at 800–900 ft. Thus, Bala began his “quest to find water in the dry village” and got connected with the National Agro Foundation (NAF) in Chennai, headed by S Rajasekhar, a member of RC Madras East. NAF was founded by his father, former cabinet minister C Subramaniam. A survey was done by NAF in 2013 in Kuppachiparai. “They reported that the villages were getting occasional rainfall but due to the hilly terrain and hard soil, rainwater could not be saved. NAF advised a watershed project which could be carried out by the National Bank of Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD).”
The club contacted NABARD which accepted it as a CSR partner, with NAF as the project facilitating agency. However, NABARD advised the club to obtain a no objection certificate from the state agriculture department. “It took us over a year to get the NOC and that too, with the help of Sankarasubramanian, past president of RC Vellore Golden City, who then was personal assistant to the district collector of Dharmapuri,” recalls Bala.
With all the paperwork through, the club found an international partner in RC Stavanger International, Norway, which wanted to expand the work to more than just a watershed project. But since NABARD is only into watershed projects, “we added another ₹30 lakh for other developmental projects such as dairy farming and tailoring directed at women,” says club president Ramesh Ananth. The three villages expanded to eight during the implementation phase. The total grant value was $189,142 (₹1.25 crore) and NABARD’s contribution was ₹1.15 crore.
Water for the villages
In the first phase, a 1,600-hectare lake located atop a hillock was desilted with expertise from NABARD. The fertile silt was spread across the field opposite the lake that eventually resulted in acres with a rich crop of paddy. The pathways were lined with fruit-bearing trees.
The watershed work included two masonry check dams, 21 loose boulder check dams, 6,000 sunken and percolation ponds, 4,300 farm ponds and 1,000 water absorption trenches. Over 10,000 trees were planted to prevent soil erosion. Chisel ploughing over 110 hectares and bunding over 5,800 cubic metres were also done, says Bala. “All these facilities now provide adequate water for drinking and cultivation, and has improved the groundwater table in the villages.” NABARD trained the farmers in scientific agricultural practices at NAF which had a project office at the site. “We taught them crop protection and rotation techniques, and to make organic fertilisers,” says NAF executive Mahesh.
Panchayat leader Krishnan is delighted with the transformation. “The project has lifted 90 per cent of the villagers from poverty and has tremendously improved their standard of living,” he smiles.
“The women in the villages today will remember the project more for the cows they now own. Dairy farming has put money into their hands,” beams Bala. Around 300 milch cows have been given to them. “I have three cows now, two of which are pregnant. Each cow gives 20 litres of milk a day,” says Pramila, a villager who is part of an SHG in the Kuppachiparai village. Dairy corporates such as Aavin, Arogya, Nandhini and Dodla are their regular customers.
Today with sufficient income from the cows and rich yields from the fields we are in a far better position.
– Pramila, a resident of Kuppachiparai
Pramila’s elder son is preparing to write the NEET exam to do postgraduation in medicine, having completed MBBS from the Chidambaram Medical College. Her younger son is a graduate in agriculture and is preparing for government exams. The family now owns a small piece of land in the village. Profusely thanking Bala, she says, “We had seen hard days when my husband and I used to go to bed with just a glass of water, after feeding our sons whatever little porridge we could manage. Today with sufficient income from the cows and rich yields from the fields we are in a far better position.” Having grown up in the village, she recalls the parched, water-starved lands, and endless acres of dry earth. “We had just resigned ourselves to a bleak future when things shone up through Bala sir,” she says with folded hands and wet eyes.
NAF groomed the women to be tech-savvy. They use their mobile phones with ease to check their bank accounts. The dairy companies update them on their mobile phones on the milk supplied that day — percentage of fat, so many litres of milk, and the amount gets credited directly into their account.
The women were taught to make vermicompost, fodder and silage, the summer feed for cattle when there is no scope for natural grazing. They are encouraged to form self-help groups. A Rotary Training Centre for garment-making has been established in Kuppachiparai with industry grade sewing machines. Over 100 women have completed their training, says Krishnan. Many of them are employed in garment factories on the Krishnagiri-Hosur belt. The women recently delivered 700 school uniforms under the Tamil Nadu Integrated Child Development Scheme.
Some women have purchased sewing machines with the loans extended by SHGs and are undertaking job work at their homes. “I earn at least ₹600–700 a week and it makes me feel good that I am able to contribute to my family in some way,” smiles Moufaza, mother of two boys. Twenty solar street lights have been installed in the villages.
The three villages expanded to eight during the implementation phase. The total grant value was $189,142 (₹1.25 crore) and NABARD’s contribution was ₹1.15 crore.
To monitor the project’s progress, RC Maa-Nagar Krishnagiri, RID 2982, was roped in, owing to its proximity to the project venue. “For the last 8–9 years, our past presidents have been acting as a bridge between RCMC and the villagers,” says V Karthik Raja, president of the Krishnagiri club, of which Krishnan is also a member.
The decade-old project was officially handed over to the panchayat committee in March in the presence of RID 3232 DG N Nandakumar, RID 2982 DG P Saravanan and other dignitaries.
“We completed the project with the initial 60 per cent funds released by TRF and I am surrendering the balance 40 per cent to the Foundation. We owe the project’s success to NAF and NABARD. Otherwise, I know next to nothing about agriculture and I have only heard of watershed as an idiom,” smiles Bala, whose expertise lies in oil and petroleum products.
The project has won RI’s Significant Achievement Award and NABARD has recognised it as the Best Watershed Project and “gave us a new assignment with ₹60 lakh funding. NAF will do it with assistance from KFW Germany. It is a climatic adaptation programme involving soil health improvement, organic agriculture and lean farming technology, that can reduce the costing for some activities and thus improve farmers’ income,” says Bala.
Pictures by Jaishree