About this document: It is about a remote village named Kapshi in Maharashtra. A group of us from IIT Bombay visited the village to learn about the progress that was achieved there. This document is hosted on my website: http://www.it.iitb.ac.in/~gumma
I can be reached at [email protected]
Backdrop: Until about three years back, the village was experiencing severe drought conditions with no water availability during the dry periods. It was inspirational to witness the way villagers transformed their conditions with self-belief and a camaraderie that is worth emulating.
1 Efforts towards water conservation
Kapshi experiences about 250-300 mm of rainfall every year, which occur in bursts of six to ten spells of rains from June to September. The water table of the region had dropped so low that the village reeled under severe drought conditions for three years an had to depend on the tanker water supply for their survival.
Egged on by the volunteers of ‘Art of Living’ foundation, the villagers made collective efforts to raise the groundwater level and store the surface water for lean periods. ‘Bandharas’ or small check dams of about three feet high were constructed along a long undulating terrain stretching about 20 km, which was identified as the route of water run-off during monsoon by the Civil Engineers of the Government. Shrubs and trees along its path were cleared. About 20 such dams have been built entirely by weekly ‘Shram-daan’ by the villagers.
There are two types of Bandharas :-
‘Kaccha-bandhara’- made up of layers of stones bounded by steel wire meshes to prevent their dislocation when faced with running water. Their primary purpose is to prevent hasty run-off of water thereby allowing it enough time for it to seep into the soil beneath. These measures have been helpful in raising the water table over a period of 2 years.
2)‘Pakka-bandhara’-constructed out of concrete and cement, they are about 3 feet high on the water facing side and 5 feet on the leeward side. The trenches between two such 5 feet walls are cement lined at the bottom to prevent seepage of water to the underground. The primary aim here is to store the rainwater for gradual subsequent use for farm purposes. It was built by government grant. However, by efficient measures employed by the villagers the job was done by spending just 2 out of 3 lacs sanctioned initially. The balance money is to be used for constructing two parallel dams adjacent to the main one to collect the subsequent overflows of water.
1 Wells and methods to augment underground storage
The villagers have carefully dug wells of about 35 feet depth that capture water during the rainy season as well as underground seepage. Each well is equipped with a small pump used to water the adjoining fields. Some wells are also used to supply drinking water round the year. The water in these wells is first treated with Potassium Permanganate (lal goli) etc. before being used. Incidentally, this was the first year when Kapshi had to not take recourse to Municipal tanker supply of water.
Apart from the wells a unique way of storing water was the ‘Underground Bandhara’. Using the knowledge of the terrain, and with the help of engineers from the Agricultural Department, a region of about 1 sq. km area under the surface was carved out for storing water that seeped underneath during the rainy season. To prevent run-off to lower lying areas and still deeper areas an L-shaped polythene sheet was layered along the storage area. The accumulated water could find its way to the nearby wells thereby providing replenishment to the wells from time to time. Apart from the Government grants some money was also provided by the ‘Art of Living’ foundation for these construction activities.(?)
Continuous Contour Trenches (CCT)
An example of first level water management, a wasteland of about ? acres was kept aside for contour irrigation. Concentric trenches were dug with intermittent planar land being cultivated with animal fodder. During the rainy season water flows into these contours and gets successively collected into the concentric trenches over a gradually sloping topography. It helps in gradually raising the water table of the area as well as preventing top soil erosion by hasty run-off of water. The planar surface between the two trenches is utilised ti grow fodder for the animals.
This elaborate work was brought about under the Food-for-work programme run by the Government during the consecutive droughts the village faced. Each villager who contributed ‘shram-daan’ of 8 hrs. a day per year (6 months + 6 months over two years of dry spells) was given 25 kg of grains per ?.
One of the interesting features of Kapshi was that each house there was equipped with a toilet with an adjoining soak pit. The excreta from the toilets is collected into an underground and fully covered soak pit gradually over a period of 15 years. The soak pit has two chambers, which could be alternatively made use at the time of collection which is supposed to take 15 days. The collected excreta is anaerobically digested by microorganisms over a long period to convert it into a fine powdered manure that sells in adjoining markets of Pune at Rs 200 per kg.
This arrangement provokes questions as to whether a similar arrangement could be worked out even in cities, given that Waste Disposal is a much more serious issue here, for eg., the waste generation far exceeds the average centralized treatment facility available in Mumbai and so most of the waste is dumped straight into the sea. This is just postponing the problem, as the waste is rich in organics and nitrates that cause severe water pollution. As Prof. Shankar puts it, a similar effort of treating waste at source in cities requires a change in mind-set that considers using excessive water to just push the waste into the sea as the ‘best’ option.
Organic Manure and Biogas
Cow dung collected from a few houses is put into a cylindrical steel tank put underground and mixed with water to make slurry. This slurry is kept under air-tight conditions. The anaerobic digestion process, called biomethanation, generates gobar gas over a period of ? days that is collected and used as fuel by the households. Typically, dung from 4 cows is sufficient to support 1 families fuel needs for ? days. Further, the left over byproduct of the above process is dried and put in farms as manure.
This practice raises pertinent questions: – Is the left over cow dung byproduct better manure than the raw cow dung itself? Can vegetable and other straw waste be used as feed to these biogas plants or added to byproduct before putting into the field?
Consultations with some of the professors in the Chemical Engg Dept seem to point at some answers: – Use of cow dung as feed for biogas plants seems to a necessary evil with the growing cheaper fuel demands of the villages. Actually, its usage in this form is wasteful as then valuable cellulose degrading bacteria, which fix Nitrogen required for plant growth, get killed. Further, the process generates NH3 and H2S in dissolved form which stay as unfixed and accumulate in the soil. Instead, employing cow dung directly to the farms (in solid form or pumping with water) is considered the best as it preserves the ruminant ecology (chains of interdependent microorganisms), so crucial for making nutrients of the soil available to the plants. This is why cow dung is referred to as just not a fertilizer but as a ‘bio-culture’.
Mixing of vegetable and corn waste to the biogas by product and using it as a fertilizer is not a good idea because the left over is already rich in organics and addition of straw waste would only add more organics. Instead, powdered basaltic rock (found in plenty in that region) could be added to it, which would provide minerals to be used by the soil.
A still better approach seems to use cow dung as such in the soil and add the powdered basaltic rock to it. Minerals that are otherwise in deficit in organic farming methods are provided by the powdered rock. The productivity in this manner seems to increase as per experience of farming in north Bihar and other river basins. Furthermore, straw and other vegetable waste could be used for biogas generation. However, this may require employing use of lignin (difficult to break) degrading enzymes, whose feasibility requires further investigation.
1 Burning of fodder grass and weeds
A practice widely used across North India, was also seen here. Operational convenience and high costs of deweeding and degrassing seems to be one of the strong motivations behind this practice. It can, however, be argued that this is a wasteful process as the energy present in the weeds is simply wasted in the form of CO2 and released into the atmosphere. Instead, if these straws and grasses could be used in a biogas plant to generate biogas, it would serve twin benefits of fuel energy as well as obviating the use of cow dung for biogas purposes. Again, the feasibility of this process needs further investigation.
There is also the other side to the practice of burning grasses. They generate, among other things, carcinogens like dioxins into the atmosphere.
1 Burning of polythene
Plastics are accumulated over a period of time and burnt. This is dangerous as burning causes generation of toxic byproducts which are believed to be carcinogens and are much more difficult to biodegrade than the parent compounds. With the given limitations in technology it would be better to recycle them. For this a regularized dumping and collection system needs to be put in place along with the Municipality. Given the limitations of this option, it would be best to cut their use at source.
2 Organic Farming
Being witness to the large sized onions that villagers in kapshi grow and having eaten the delicious food there, it can be said that organic agriculture has been one of their success stories. Use of natural fertilizers and insecticides primarily using cow dung and urine has made them successfully swith over to chemical free agriculture. The villagers, seem to be fully convinced that use of synthetic fertilizers and DDT etc. was a source of slow poisoning. Thier eagerness to get rid of this enabled them to willingly accept marginally low farm yields in the first year of switch over to new farming. Not only is the organic product bigger, it lasts longer and does not need elaborate storage facilities.
Organic Farming, is in some way, like going back to the old ways of farming practiced since times immemorial up until 40 to 50 years back. People still recollect their grandmothers speaking about the quality. Taste, etc. of the vegetables and the grains used during their times. If this was so, then why was it that use of chemical fertilizers was resorted to in the first place. As Prof. Venkatesh puts it, Organic Farming is prone to contamination and spoilage by unknown pests or new strains of microorganisms which is why people tend to grow organic foods in protected environments or use insecticides to keep off all organisms.
The demands of a rapidly growing population needed food grain production at a much faster pace than what was being achieved in the sixties. Led by the Western experience in this regard, the use of hybrid seeds with extensive fertilizer and pesticide use could achieve a marked rise in production, initially. Agriculture became water intensive that had its effect over the years in the form of receding water table. Further, synthetic fertilizers provide H+ions to the soil to solubilize the minerals present that could then be harvested by the plants.
However, their use over a period destroyed the natural ecology that existed in the soil. In this manner useful microorganisms present in the roots of the plant were destroyed preventing natural nitrogen fixation and denitrification. With repeated use, it resulted in an ever-increasing dosage of the fertilizers. The increased usage ultimately resulted in the high acidity levels that are witnessed today in the soil, rendering the latter infertile.
Having said this, resorting to farming is a risky proposition initially, but if persisted it seems to be a sure way of moving towards increased productivity over a longer period. In the present case, villagers learnt the techniques of organic farming from Mr. (Ramesh ?) Palekar of Amaravati in Andhra Pradesh. This included the right kind of dosage and timing of the manures to be administered to the land. Interestingly, snakes and farm cats are used as natural pesticides that eat away the rats that attack the standing crops and grains. It was heartening to see that the villagers seem satisfied with both the quality and quantity of their produce after the first year when the production was lower than what was obtained using inorganic fertilizer use.
3 Innovative Coconut scheme
With financial aid from the Panchayat, each household planted a coconut tree by itself investing about Rs. 5-10 for the sapling. The balance money is to be gradually paid as taxes to the Panchayats beginning with the second year of plantation, with those owning a pukka house shelling out more tax than those with kuccha house (Progressive Taxation). As the tree grows, it was estimated to that the products of the coconut tree would fetch about Rs. 1000-2000 p.a. to each family. The choice of the coconut tree is interesting. Each part of the tree lends itself of use-stem, fruit, bark, etc, for various purposes. Moreover, coconut tree is relatively fast growing; its roots are small enough not to damage the foundations of the house. The water requirements for its growth can be met by channeling the water used for domestic washing purposes.
4 Desire for alternate energy sources
The villagers were very keen on finding substitutes for their power needs. They do get about 6-10 hrs of electricity everyday but find the bills pretty hefty. Most of them were keen to know if they could instead use Solar Energy for street and other lighting purposes. With the discussions that followed thereafter with Prof Date and others, the use of Photo-voltaic cells as
source of power seems to very costly and cannot be used.
5 Art of Living and its role
Prime initiative: Dr. Paul, based in Phalton but makes weekly trips to the village to administer medical treatment to the villagers. Realised that the villagers needed to be brought together to solve their own problems. Himself. a beneficiary of the Art of Living courses, he convinced the foundation to start short Navchetana shivirs for people in the villages teaching some elementary pranayamas and doing satsang (devotional chanting in congregation). 6 villagers attended the first such camp and thereafter the chain began to grow. In his own words, Dr. Paul found that the villagers were very keen to take up responsibility and were mature enough to make sacrifices for the larger cause. Gradually, some villagers gave up intoxicating liquor and tobacco etc. and other malpractices. As one of the village eleders put it, the one-hr weekly congregational satsang was their way to realise themselves and forget petty issues.
Moreover, the concept of ‘expanding your responsibilities’ imparted in these camps seems to have worked wonders in bridging the cast divide. However, in all fairness it must be mentioned that because of the progressive movements by Jyotiba Phule, MG Ranade etc. in parts of West Maharashtra over the past 100-150 years the general populace here is very mature and the caste rigidities are not as strong as in some other parts of the country. Distinctions do exist but they are only at the level of occupation. This aspect seemed to have helped Dr. Paul. The sarpanch of this village seems to be a man among the masses. He leads from the front and does shram-daan himself along with others in all the activities taken by villages. No wonder he was awarded the ‘Best Sarpanch of Maharashtra’ award last year.
This tale from the village holds important pointers to people living in cities as well. Most problems could be dealt with at the micro level if conscious efforts are made towards them. Things like pranayama, faith, satsang spur discipline and send messages to place one’s action in a perspective. Such measures are long lasting, as they strike deep into the human psyche. With increased violence, insecurity and intolerance that is witnessed in the society today such measures suggest a way out. No wonder, increasingly people are resorting to them in the cities and in the West as well.
Courtney from Study Moose
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