Rotary’s 4th Programs of Scale grant for Indian farming

One Indian club’s passion for water conservation and improving the income of Indian farmers has ensured that The Rotary Foundation’s next Programs of Scale grant worth $2 million for this year has been awarded for Indian farming, as announced by TRF chair Barry Rassin at the RI Convention in Singapore. The application for this grant was made by the Rotary Club of Delhi Premier, RID 3011, which has been working over two decades in the area of water conservation, ­restoration of water bodies and building of check dams in some of the most parched regions of India.

RC Delhi Premier president Sudhanshu Pachisia with villagers at a check dam built by the club at Alwar, Rajasthan.

Rassin said this grant will support the work Indian Rotarians do with the country’s farmers, who have been badly affected by climate change. The grant will be given through the programme Partners for Water Access and Better Harvests in India, which will aim to increase groundwater tables, extend cultivation areas, and raise the incomes of about 60,000 farmers by 25 per cent to 30 per cent.

Addressing one of the general sessions at the convention, Rassin said, “Farmers in India are responsible for producing much of the world’s wheat, rice, and other food staples. But the groundwater these farmers depend on is vanishing. Climate change is making rainfall more erratic which leads to drought.”

Farmers in India are responsible for producing much of the world’s wheat, rice, etc. But the groundwater they depend on is vanishing thanks to climate change.
Barry Rassin, TRF Chair

The result of this was that women and children in these distressed regions of India were spending increasing time walking long ­distances to get water…. Time which could be used much better in education and earning a livelihood. Thanks to falling income from farming, men were forced to leave their villages to find work in urban areas to supplement their farm income. These trends were not sustainable either for these particular communities or the world.

Villagers perform a puja before the construction of a check dam at Alwar.

Rotary’s fourth Programs of Scale aims to reverse these trends. Through this grant Rotary will work with Indian farmers on a five-year programme to plant the seeds for sustainable farming in India for generations to come, he said. Partners for Water Access and Better Harvests in India will build rainwater collection systems such as check dams and ponds to increase groundwater tables by 10 to 15 per cent each year in four states. It will also work to reduce soil erosion on about 4,100 hectares (more than 10,000 acres) of land by introducing drip irrigation and planting native species and fruit trees.

Our club has been building check dams and we have seen the benefits in Alwar, Rajasthan, where the dry tube wells and hand pumps started giving out water in one year.
Sudhanshu Pachisia, RC Delhi Premier president

All these measures are expected to help offset the effects of climate change and facilitate sustainable farming practices.

Rotary members who are familiar with local dialects and traditions will work with national organisations to support farmers and promote techniques that will store additional water and grow more crops with less water while protecting the ecosystems on which they depend. The project’s success will be measured not only by increased groundwater storage and agricultural productivity, but by the overall improvement in quality of life for farmers and their families, as well, he added.


A club devoted to water conservation

Sudhanshu Pachisia, president of RC Delhi Premier, is ecstatic that TRF found merit in supporting the club’s work in water conservation and passion for improving the livelihood of Indian farmers. In a conversation with Rotary News, he said, “Our club has been doing water conservation and building check dams for a while, and we have seen the benefits of those check dams in the Alwar area in Rajasthan and how those check dams improved the groundwater in the region, resulting in dry tube wells and hand pumps giving out water in just one year.”

File photo of a check dam built with Rotary support in Rajasthan in 2014.

This heartening result inspired one of their seniormost Rotarians KS Mehta, charter member of this club and past president of RC Delhi Midtown from where these Rotarians branched out to form their present club. “He has a lot of passion and in-depth knowledge on water conservation and building check dams, and this grant of scale is his brainchild and has materialised thanks to his vision. He said ‘why don’t we do something really big which can have an impact across India.’”

Pachisia and club members with villagers at a check dam project.

On how the project will pan out over the next few years, Pachisia says that to begin with they would start from three regions — Marathwada in Maharashtra, Bundelkhand in Madhya Pradesh, and some areas of Rajasthan. “We have chosen some of the very dry regions and have already tied with some very strong implementation partners, one of them being Mayank Gandhi of GVT from Marathwada.”

Phillippe Dangelser (second from R), past president of RC Brumath Truchtersheim Kochersberg, France, at the inauguration of a check dam in Kalakota village in Rajasthan in 2014.

(Gandhi is a social activist and chief trustee and founder of the NGO Global Vikas Trust which aims to transform the drought-hit villages of Marathwada, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh by increasing the minimum income of India’s farmers from the average of ₹10,000 to over ₹1 lakh per acre per year.)

They have also partnered with Srijan, the NGO from Bundelkhand working on water conservation, and the PHD Rural Development ­Foundation in Rajasthan. Adds Pachisia, “The basic idea is to first increase the groundwater level for the farmers, and then also introduce them to drip irrigation by giving them farming options that require less water and work best with drip irrigation. In the second stage comes the plantation of fruit trees. Our objective is to change the basic farming concept and get farmers into more profitable farming.

The fruits chosen will be regional and decided by agronomists and other experts in the field, after analysing the soil, climate and other factors.”

A check dam constructed by the club in Kaler village, Alwar.

Elaborating, Mehta recalled how the Rotarians had started this work of augmenting the income of the marginal and small Indian farmers way back in 2005 when he was chair of the PHD Rural Development Foundation. “Rajendra Singh had already won the Magsaysay Award for his work in water conservation and the environment. So we called him over, understood from him the whole concept of saving and conserving water through check dams, signed an MoU with him and built two check dams in partnership with him.”

Next the RDF, a body devoted to undertaking welfare measures in rural India, decided it could do this work on its own. “And then, with help from late PRID Sushil Gupta, who helped us get funding from overseas, we carried out several water conservation projects and built check dams in Sikar, Alwar and villages near Dosa and Jaipur, also constructed some water tanks in Pataudi in Haryana.”


Pressing need of Indian farmers

Asked if water is indeed the most pressing need of the Indian farmer, he says, “It’s not just water, but we have to ensure that the farmer’s total income goes up.”

Mehta said that after building the check dams in Rajasthan, after which the groundwater levels went up in the region, when the farmers harvest their crops, “we found that their income had gone up by 100 per cent.” But unfortunately, the fact remained that he was still drawing up water through the bored tube wells, depleting “at least 40 to 50 per cent of the water saved in the check dams. So we started thinking what more could we do to save that water.”

After several rounds of discussions with water experts in the field on ways to lower the consumption of water in farming practices, “we discovered that there were certain types of farming which can be done with drip irrigation; unfortunately crops such as wheat and mustard, widely cultivated in Rajasthan, cannot be done with drip irrigation. But fortunately, fruit trees can be grown with drip irrigation.”

So the farmers have now started planting regionally suitable fruit trees such as amla or gooseberry, lime, sweet lime, apple bear (Indian jujube also called ­Chinese date) and papaya. “With these fruit trees, his income will go up three times. And while the fruit trees grow, he will be able to do crops on the land below these trees. The result is that while assuring his usual annual income, we are giving him additional income through fruits,” said Mehta.

Also, along with the fruit trees, the Rotarians have started giving these farmers an amount of ₹10,000, which they can use to put up the drip irrigation system. They are also entitled to get 50 per cent subsidy from the government for this but the only problem is the delay in getting the money sanctioned, he said. Add to this a bit of money as loan from the bank and some of his personal savings, the marginal farmer can put up his own drip irrigation system which will result in huge savings in groundwater in the coming years.

Two horticulturists also have been appointed to go around the farms of small/marginal farmers and advise them on the right kind of fertilisers, pesticides and other inputs required. Vermicompost bags have also been given to the small farmers, so that they can generate their own compost, he added.


Marketing challenge for farmers

IPDG Jeetender Gupta (R) and DG Mahesh Trikha (second from L) with member of RC Delhi Premier.

On the marketing challenges before the Indian farmer, particularly the small and marginal farmer, who is a terrible loser in an ecosystem where the agents, brokers or middlemen make huge money while dictating the prices, Mehta said the entire situation will change when these small ­farmers, through value- added farming, hit a critical level of production. “Once they reach mass production, then we will encourage them to go for farm companies or cooperatives… so that the middleman doesn’t take away the major profit. Another benefit of mass production is that the moment the farmer achieves this, he doesn’t have to run to the broker to sell his produce. On the other hand, the ­broker will come to him, and that makes a difference of 10 to 20 per cent in the pricing.”

Once farmers’ companies or cooperatives are formed, they would not only be able to sell their produce in a more organised way and profitably, but also the collective purchase of inputs will make them much cheaper, he added.


Other verticals

Pachisia added that apart from the direct impact on India’s GDP when the small farmers’ income goes up substantially, there are several other verticals which this grant is tackling, and these involve education, particularly of the girl child, health and hygiene of girls and women through adequate awareness on and support to MHM, etc. “I can tell you that this grant programme will have a huge impact on women’s welfare. We all know that women in our country have to walk for 2–3km to fetch water. Improving water tables will really help reduce this huge burden for them. Also migration to cities for casual labour will now stop.”

Of course, he admitted, for all this to happen at the ground-level, it will take three years; it takes an entire year just for the water levels to go up, and the results of planting fruit trees will be seen in three years.

These grants are given for sustainable projects that empower our communities and create measurable impact. I’m very proud this year’s Programs of Scale grant has been awarded to RC Delhi Premier to address water scarcity and livelihood of our farmers.
Bharat Pandya, TRF Trustee

“At the end of the day, we want to change the basic concept of farming, and the impact of the increased income of a marginal farmer will be huge, and will affect positively on other focus areas of Rotary such as health and hygiene, education, livelihood, greening of the earth and hence the environment.”

Saving the best bit of news for the last, the club president said that apart from the $2 million (over ₹16 crore) which will come from this programme, the club has already got commitments from Indian corporates for an additional $2 million. “We feel this is just the beginning; once our donors and the community see the real impact of this project, the ­trickle-down effect will be there and we expect this project to grow to $100 million in five years.”

He added that there are so many Indian corporates who want to help development of rural India, and with this project having various components such as education, health, livelihood and environment, “somewhere or the other they will find an area which will align with their CSR objectives and commitments, and partner with us.”

Expressing his happiness at this year’s Programs of Scale being awarded to India, TRF trustee Bharat Pandya said that Rotarians were people of action who used their networks to create lasting solutions.

“Programs of Scale are an effort to implement sustainable projects that empower our communities and create measurable impact. I am very proud that this year’s Programs of Scale grant has been awarded to RC Delhi Premier to address the issue of water scarcity and its impact on agriculture and livelihoods of farmers. The grant will help the club in bringing a change, advancing environmental sustainability, and ensuring a brighter future for rural communities in India.”

Partners express happiness, support

The Rotary Club of Delhi Premier’s partners, who are working with the Rotarians to improve the yield, value of farm produce and income of farmers, welcomed TRF’s announcement. Mayank Gandhi, GVT managing trustee, congratulated the club members “for getting this prestigious grant to help the farmers of India. We know that it is the poorest of the poor who bear the greatest brunt of the climate crisis, and we at GVT believe that the only way to transform their lives is by sustainable agriculture at scale. We have been planting trees and working on water conservation for several years now, and through this association with Rotary, we hope to help thousands of farmers in one of the worst-hit areas of India, which is drought-prone, poverty-ridden and reports some of the highest numbers of farmers’ suicides. We look forward to working together on this collaboration and hope that we can impact the lives of farmers significantly in the long term.”

Sharad Jaipuria, chairman, PHD Rural Development Foundation, said, “We, in partnership with Rotary, look forward to empowering farming communities in remote rainfed rural India. The partnership will focus on climate resilient agricultural practices to improve the socioeconomic conditions of 30,000 farmers, with 45 per cent being women, by diversifying to high value crops like fruit plantations and multilayer vegetable farming, along with groundwater recharge by generating a water potential of more than 10.45 million cubic feet through sustainable management of natural resources. The project will be executed with an integrated approach for community participation in collaboration with the government; with the community being one of the key stakeholders.”

Prasanna Khemariya, CEO, Self-Reliant Initiatives through Joint Action (SRIJAN), said, “We are pleased to announce ­SRIJAN’s partnership with RC Delhi Premier to empower women farmers and foster sustainable livelihoods in Jhansi and Niwari districts. Through our combined efforts in water conservation, climate-smart agriculture and livelihood initiatives, we aim to benefit 1,500 women farmers and facilitate the plantation of 7,000 trees. This project will create potential for eight crore litres of groundwater, transforming 700 acres of agricultural land. Together, we are committed to driving positive change and creating a resilient, prosperous future for rural communities.”


With inputs from Jyoti Rai,
senior PR and communications strategist, RISAO


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