Drought is a serious issue in the western Indian state of Gujarat, particularly for underprivileged female farmers whose livelihood depends on the monsoon. Limited rainfall in the state leads to water logging in peak cropping season. For the rest of the year, farmers experience severe water scarcity. But thanks to a life-changing technology, poor farmers are now converting crises into opportunities.
Bhungroo is a water management system that injects and stores excess rainfall underground and lifts it out for use in dry spells. Adoption of this technology has decreased salt deposits on soil and increased fresh water supply, saving farmers from drought.
Bhungroo has freed women from debt, given them land ownership and helped them participate in local governance as a result of their expertise and influence in agriculture and water;
It provides food security and sustainable livelihoods to more than 18,000 marginal farmers (with over 96,000 dependent family members) in India. From the first year, a typical family’s annual income increases from USD 210 to USD 700. The breakeven point is reached within three years.
It is now a fully women-driven process, from selecting the farmers, erecting the technology and operating and maintaining the system.
Flash floods in the region result in water logging, which reduces soil fertility, increases salinity and affects agricultural produce and farmers’ income. Older irrigation systems divert water from rivers to cities, which leads to a decrease in farming and an increase in urban migration. Women farmers are most adversely affected by the water crisis.
Bhungroo is a water management system that injects and stores excess rainfall underground and lifts it out for use in dry spells. The massive underground reservoir can hold as much as 40 million litres of rain water. It harvests water for about 10 days per year and can supply water for as long as seven months.
Artificially recharging aquifers by adding rainwater to underground water reservoirs enables the communities to continue farming for more than half of the year. The non-saline rainwater when mixed with the underground saline water brings down the salinity of the groundwater, making it fit for agricultural use.
Helping the planet
By curtailing desertification, the technology helps to build resilience to climate change and to rejuvenate local biodiversity. This in turn benefits the local community as it allows the growing of local, more nutritious food.
Naireeta Services, a social enterprise, trains and empowers women to run and monitor Bhungroo. Groups of five ultra-poor women farmers jointly own the Bhungroo technology, which provides them with an income from their crops. By curtailing desertification, the initiative helps women build resilience to climate change.
Each Bhungroo unit improves land fertility for five families and guarantees cropping for two seasons over the next 30 years. The program has helped free women from debt, attain land ownership, and participate in local governance as a result of their expertise and influence in agriculture and water.
In India, waterlogging affects 12 states, encompassing 7% of the total national land mass. At least 1.9 million marginal and small landholding farming families are deprived of food security and a sustainable livelihood.
The technology is open source so that it is scalable in other places. Bhungaroo does have a non-negotiable principle, however—that the technology should be used by poor people only.
Opinion leaders and policymakers have expressed interest in helping to scale-up and replicate the initiative across India. The Gujarat Ecology Commission has replicated Bhungroo in other parts of the state while the state education board has incorporated the idea into the school curriculum. Change Agent, a Boston-based organization, has helped spread Bhungaroo to parts of Africa.
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