Ensuring a Water Secure Future in Maharashtra’s Cotton-Growing Villages

Furrows drawn in cotton fields promote irrigation efficiency. Photo credit: Institute for Sustainable Communities

On a sunny October morning in 2019, members of the Donoda village council in Yavatmal, Maharashtra, met to better understand what they could do about the lack of irrigation water for their cotton crops. Yavatmal had seen less than the normal rainfall during the monsoon months, and the farmers needed to irrigate their cotton crops as they neared the flowering stage. Unfortunately, there simply wasn’t enough water to support all the farmers, and only a small number could access groundwater sources.  

The Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC), working under the USAID and Gap Inc. Women + Water Alliance, proposed a solution. The Women + Water Alliance is dedicated to improving and sustaining the health and well-being of women and communities touched by the apparel industry in India—with a heavy focus on cotton-growing communities. Farmers from Donoda and other villages needed help adopting water conservation practices as well as augmenting sources of supply. 

Before any of this could get started, farmers first had to become aware of just how much water they were using. ISC and its partner, Action for Agricultural Renewal in Maharashtra (AFARM), worked closely in 10 villages to map out the state of water resources and track water use. “We never knew that 98 percent of the total water use in our village was for irrigating cotton and other crops,” said one village extension worker. The farmers soon realized that they had an important role to play to conserve water resources. 

Identifying new sources of water had to be part of the long-term solution for the villages of Maharashtra. A scientific mapping exercise identified one village as a location for source sustainability measures. The team of ISC, AFARM, and the villagers developed a plan for deepening, widening, and desilting a stream so that it could both provide an additional source of supply for crop irrigation but also help recharge the groundwater. 

This map shows potential sites for recharge in the project villages.

This map shows potential sites for recharge in the project villages.

The long-term benefit of this plan is a perennial water source that reduces the risk of water scarcity in summer months. And women will no longer have to travel 2 km to fetch water in times of scarcity—a significant reduction in drudgery. 

ISC and AFARM also identified a set of good operation practices with respect to demand management.   The farmers received training through farmer field schools on the negative impacts of overuse of water, fertilizers, and pesticides. The three main practices that have the potential to reduce water use in cotton farming include: soil moisture conservation in the field through farm bunding and use of organic manure; intercropping; and furrow and alternate furrow irrigation. 

The training, field demonstrations, extension, and outreach activities led to the adoption of the these practices, which in turn increased water productivity by 37 percent. In addition, cotton production increased 16 percent, and the cost of cultivation decreased around Rs. 5,000 (US $71) per acre. These savings enabled households to invest in the education of their children in some cases; others have invested in assets such as gold.

As the members of the village council reflect on that moment a few months ago, they now feel a greater sense of empowerment to adapt to their changing world. “We realize the importance of water conservation. It is the only way ahead,” says Asha Tai.  As they look out their windows at the beautiful cotton, they know that they can play a role in ensuring a more sustainable future. 

Romit Sen, Associate Director, Institute for Sustainable Communities

This post does not represent the views or positions of the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Government, or Gap Inc.


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Romit Sen, Associate Director, Institute for Sustainable Communities
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