Women Leaders - Janki Bai
By M Jemima Margaret

Sacrificing an acre for a pond, benefits her other nine acres and neighbors too

The watershed project in Dungaria, a remote village in Madhya Pradesh state in India, has not only helped women farmers to conserve rain water, grow new crops and better crops but has also brought a transformation in their thinking.

Rainwater harvesting pond on Janki Baiís plot.
Photo: V Nagasrinivas Reddy

Stacks of rice bags on the verandah, a solar-powered streetlight brightening up the courtyard and a dish antenna popping out of the thatched roof of Janki Bai’s home take you by surprise.

Rice in a semi-arid region? How about streetlights in an isolated village where even grid connectivity even in 2025 seemed to be a remote possibility? Even the approach road to Dungaria village, set in rocky mountain terrain, is unmotorable. Getting to Janki’s home is literally an uphill task!

Get talking to the villagers and you understand that this change is recent and the seed for this change was sown by a watershed initiative.

The awareness levels and community spirit in the village that was sparked off and fostered by the watershed initiative has seeped into almost every area of their life. Be it getting solar power to their village, or putting to good use various government schemes, or women getting wages on par with men, the folks of Dungaria are now proactive.

This initiative had an important partnership with international scientific researchers, national government and local NGO partners. It was led by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), funded by the Indian Ministry of Rural Development, and implemented by an NGO, Bhopal Yuwa Paryavaran Shikshan & Samajik Sansthan (BYPASS).

Solar panels sticking out of thatched houses is a common sight in Dunagaria village.
The approach road to the village is unmotorable.
Photos: V Nagasrinivas Reddy

Battling water scarcity and poverty

Just about a year ago, Janki Bai couldn’t even dream of growing rice in her field. She has 10 acres (4.04686 hectares) of land. Going by the land size you might presume she is wealthy, but sadly her land lay barren most of the year. “This is a dry area. We used to grow just one crop,” says Janki, who along with her husband Kamal Singh grew the local variety of chickpea and pigeonpea on their land. The income they got from the farm and by loaning out their two bullocks was insufficient to meet the needs of their family comprising two sons and two daughters, a daughter-in-law and a grandson.

To supplement their income the couple worked as farm laborers and their two sons had to pitch in, while their elder daughter attended to household chores.

Water harvesting ushers in positive changes

Janki Bai has harvested rice on her field for the first time. Photo: Anthony Chapman

Though the Padarlya-Siyalwada Model Watershed project started in 2010, it was not until 2013 that Janki decided to put in a proposal to the watershed committee for digging a pond in her field. She decided to sacrifice one acre of land for the purpose and paid for 5% of the cost (Rs 10,000, US$ 160). “The digging of the pond required a lot of labor,” says Janki adding that men and women were paid equal daily wages. Instead of the market rate of Rs 50 (US$ 0.81) for women and Rs 70 (US$ 1.13) for men, the partnering NGO ensured that men and women were paid Rs 100 (US$ 1.62) per head as per the standard government rate.

The work on the pond started in March 2014 and was completed in June 2014 just in time for the monsoon showers. Rainwater from the hills reaches Janki’s pond via diversion drains and the water storage capacity of this earthen structure is 4,000 cubic meters.

The pond not only benefits Janki’s nine acres but also the neighboring land as the groundwater gets recharged and tube wells in other farms within half-a-kilometer radius are benefited. Another major achievement for Janki was to grow rice (Pusa Basmati – a superior variety of rice) for the first time in her field on two acres of land. “Once we built the pond, then we started growing rice. We sold the harvested rice and we have now planted wheat and pigeonpea,” she says pointing to the seedlings. In a part of her field which has young chickpea plants, Janki begins to pinch off the apices of the shoots to encourage bilateral growth. She collects the tender leaves saying, “These make for a nutritious and tasty dish.”

She continues – “The fruit of hard work is paying off. We have taken a loan to build the pond and since we have had a good rice harvest, we are able to run our house well. I am hoping to pay back the full amount by next year. Meantime, if we are picked up for labor work we will take it up and use the earnings to repay the loan.”

Prior to sowing rice, soil tests have been done on Janki’s farm. To prevent soil erosion in the uplands in her field, earthen and vegetative bunds were built, boulder checks were also built to prevent silting of the pond. Janki uses fertilizers prescribed by ICRISAT following soil tests on her land to make up for nutrient deficiency. She also uses eco-friendly compost.

A new trend in vermicomposting

Vermicompost unit.
Photo: Anthony Chapman

In October 2014, Janki erected a vermicompost unit made of polythene. The earlier standard practice was to build a concrete structure, but this new unit is less expensive and can be even moved when required.

With the help of the field staff from the NGO, BYPASS, Janki procured earthworms and released them into the vermicompost unit that is filled with farm manure comprising vegetable waste, crop residue, and the dung from the bullocks she owns. She covers the pit with hay and uses mulch made from dung to keep the soil moist. She uses the vermicompost in her fields and also for the vegetable crops that she grows on the bunds of her pond.

Sowing new ideas - the solar power initiative

One of the most important outcomes of the watershed project is the forging of a community spirit that has inspired the people of the village to find solutions to their problems. They had discovered the power of coming together to build structures to resolve their water woes and the same principle has been extended to dispel the darkness in their village through the solar power initiative that had ICRISAT playing a proactive role. The matter was raised with the government, in an effort to find out alternative solution and solve the electricity problem of the village. The government department informed that that this village can be taken under a centrally sponsored scheme of solar lighting for the household as well as streetlights. BYPASS staff helped in completing the various formalities including convincing people to contribute Rs 100 (US$ 1.62) per family as beneficiary’s contribution. The prepared proposal was accepted by the government department and a total of 54 solar powered home lights and five street lights have been installed in the village.

The watershed project has not only helped farmers, especially women farmers, in this village to conserve rain water, grow new crops and better crops (the Asha variety of pigeonpea is very popular here) but has also brought a transformation in their thinking. Their aspirations and awareness of various government schemes has increased along with their income levels. Janki’s younger daughter, who is studying Grade VII in Siyalwada high school, goes to school which is 3 km away on a bicycle that she procured through a government scheme for girls.

And even as we talk, Janki gets impatient. “I’m getting late. I have to register my name for a government health insurance scheme,” she says, pointing to the panchayat office that’s buzzing with activity with a sizeable group of people crowding the narrow lane.

Janki Bai waters a postrainy (rabi) crop.
Photo: V Nagasrinivas Reddy
The bullock cart is used for transporting farm produce to the nearby markets. Photo: Anthony Chapman

Impact of The Padarlya-Siyalwada Model Watershed Project on Agriculture:

Seventy-five per cent of Dungaria village was once dryland. Farmers cultivated a single crop during the monsoon season and for the rest of the year they worked as laborers in nearby villages to eke a living.

The watershed initiative ushered in changes that this area has never witnessed before. The availability of water throughout the year through rainwater harvesting ponds has led farmers to grow water-intensive crops like rice during the rainy season and crops like pigeonpea, chickpea, lentils, soyabean, etc., in the postrainy season. Adopting scientific methods of cultivation like using prescribed nutrients following soil tests, using organic manure, adopting the Broad Bed Furrow System, following integrated pest management techniques and using quality seed has helped farmers increase the quality and yield of crops.

Increase in production (tons per hectare*):

  • Wheat: From 2.1 to 2.9
  • Chickpea: 0.6 tons to 0.9 tons
  • Soyabean: 1.5 tons to 1.95 tons
  • Cropping intensity increased from 115% to 160%
  • Paddy is being grown in this area for the first time *Approximate figures

The Padarlya-Siyalwada Model Watershed, Raisen District, Madhya Pradesh, India, had an important partnership with international scientific researchers, national government and local NGO partners. It was led by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), funded by the Indian Ministry of Rural Development, and implemented by an NGO, Bhopal Yuwa Paryavaran Shikshan & Samajik Sansthan (BYPASS).

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