Dr. Ramaswamy Sakthivandivel (Qualified Expert in the Field).
The Madurai based NGO, Development for Humane Action (DHAN) Foundation in partnership with Oxfam-Novib, the Netherlands carried out a project to combat desertification through increased water harvesting in the coastal areas of the districts of Tuticorin, Ramanathapuram, Pudhukottai, Thanjavur and Nagapattinam in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
The project was in continuation of DHAN’s intervention after the Tsunami of 2004 that severely affected the coastal districts of Tamil Nadu. The project sought to contribute to increased food and environmental security in drought prone coastal areas. Specifically, it sought to increase water harvesting and diminish desertification in the five districts mentioned above through conservation and management of water harvesting structures and strengthen water management by the community. The target participants were small and marginal farmers, landless and women, majority belonging to Dalit (Scheduled Caste) groups, who have hitherto been excluded from state development projects. The objective was sought to be realized by organsing these unorganized people into water users associations, (Vayalgam) formed around the renovated water bodies and women’s groups (Kalanjiam)for savings and credit as well as promotion of micro-enterprises. These associations are federated at appropriate levels. The final beneficiaries were small holder agriculturalists /farmers and women.
Two generic types of water bodies were sought to be rejuvenated or constructed. These were a) community owned tanks and village ponds (for domestic use and drinking water) and b) individually owned farm ponds. The targets were renovating 83 tanks, covering 2688 hectares, benefiting 6640 farmers, 37 village ponds benefiting 7400 households and excavating 1050 farm ponds to irrigate 425 hectares benefiting 900 households across the five districts.
Evaluation Process and Methodology
In a highly participatory exercise, involving the DHAN staff, the evaluators traveled across the districts interacting with villagers and project participants, men and women. The evaluation systematically focused on the following DAC evaluation criteria: _ relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, impact and sustainability, plus coherence and added value specific to the Commission.. Gender was a cross cutting theme throughout the evaluation.
At the outset, it has to be said that on the whole the evaluators were very impressed with what they saw and the professional efficiency of DHAN. The response of the people who participated in the project was overwhelmingly positive and it was clear that the process and the project were owned by them, with DHAN acting as facilitators. What was all the more impressive was that all targets were exceeded: 83 tanks, benefiting 2850 farmers and irrigating 2850 ha, 41 village ponds reaching out to 8269 farmers and 1074 farm ponds irrigating 476 ha and benefiting 914 households against the set targets. This alone makes the intervention extremely relevant and important in the context of the issues relating to dryland coastal agriculture and water management in the face of climate change. The evaluation team found that the problem analysis and social targeting is very relevant. It has local, regional, national, and global significance in terms of a) targeting the poor and changing their situation b) building up climate change resilience c) arresting distress migration, and d) creating self-sufficient communities, who address their problems through vibrant democratic organizations that also tackle the endemic corruption in South Asian countries. In this project, 24638 households have been organised into 222 associations. All these associations have their own governing bodies selected by its members and all the members meet according to the need. It must be added that it is only because of the high quality of the lessons learnt from the past practices that so many organisations could be formed in such a short period more so since all these households had never been involved in an organisation earlier and were divided along various lines, including caste, religion and affiliation with numerous political parties. The success of the intervention can be attributed, the external evaluators felt, to DHAN’s basic philosophy of working through institutions of the poor. To ensure their involvement, the village participants have to pay 25 percent of the estimated costs upfront. However, the evaluation found that this was exceeded by 100 percent in many cases than what the people had originally promised. A woman mobilized emigrants from her village to contribute to the construction of the pond. Villagers also pointed out that visiting government officials estimate the costs to be at least 100-200 percent than what was actually spent. All the works have been executed very transparently, following an elaborate process of scrutiny by DHAN staff, accomplished professionals with more than a decade’s experience and the association members.
Two kinds of impacts were visible in the field.
1. Physical Impacts
Apart from the increase in irrigation cover, an additional 1326 ha of hitherto rainfed lands being brought under irrigation, 8269 households have domestic and drinking water security round the year for themselves and their livestock. Additionally, the duration of water availability has increased in the project areas by two-three months. The storage of water has increased by 70,000 to 10,000 cubic meters. The farm production has crossed over 2 to 2.5/ha tons in the project area.
In 73 project villages, farmers harvested crop successfully after renovation. Farmers in nine villages have cultivated second crop after the renovation. 60,921 livestock population directly access water from the irrigation tanks and the livestock population was found to be increased. In many places, villagers are engaging in pisci-culture. In one village the evaluation team found that this alone generated a profit of Rs 150,000 in six months.
2. Social Impacts
The first discernible social impact of the intervention is the tremendous boost in self-confidence amongst the villagers, both men and women. These people had been neglected hitherto by development processes and now thanks to the project and DHAN feel that they can do things, solve their own problems. In some of the villages visited, anecdotes were narrated on how the local officials were questioned and accountability sought from them. Drinking and domestic water security has not only reduced the drudgery of the women who used to go long distances to fetch water, but it has also enhanced school attendance. The levels of personal hygiene have gone up.
In terms of policy, the project has influenced district collectors who now are willing to follow the practice of using the excavated silt to renovate village roads or fill up low lying lands. However, lower officials will have to be motivated to be more accountable and transparent. It is in this sense that the formation of associations and their demanding accountability becomes a solution to the issue of endemic corruption prevalent in South Asia. The entire region is marked by high levels of gender inequality. However, DHAN has made a dent in this by involving women in decision making and also through the formation of Kalanjiams.
AGFUND PRIZE EVALUATORS’ COMMENTS:
Prof. T.G. Reeves FTSE
This project is based in the drought prone districts of Tamil Nadu, India, and focuses on the problems of desertification, inadequate water and resultant crop failures. As a result of these crop failures, food insecurity in the region has been very high and the target communities have been very hard hit by hunger and malnutrition. According to the government of Tamil Nadu around 400,000 hectares have become dry and drought ridden in the last 40 years. The target groups for this project are poor smallholder agriculturalists, livestock rearers, women and landless laborers as well as local authorities. The major activity of the project has been to gain community participation in the construction (sometimes rehabilitation) of tanks and village ponds to effectively harvest and store water. To achieve this men and women have been organized into tank associations; farmers have been trained in new agricultural methods; women’s groups have been trained in fish farming; and access to micro-finance from local banks and government, has been facilitated. The reported impacts of this project on the community are amazing. The water tanks and ponds have allowed farmers to provide water to their food crops at the crucial stages nearing crop maturity when dry conditions prevail. They have also allowed the development of new industries including fish farming and enhanced livestock production. However, one of the major impacts of the water tanks/ponds is their social benefit in providing a central point of focus for community involvement and employment creation. This is a project that appears to have transformed the landscape and the livelihoods in this challenging region.
Dr. Robert Yoder
Builds upon 10 years of implementing agencies past experience in the same districts
Builds upon past community organizations
Farmer to farmer training adds additional dimension to demonstration and extension services
Though not quantified in the documentation and reports one can calculate from the information
reported by the final report and external evaluator’s report that substantial gains were made in increasing food production and improving food security.
Though considerable effort was made in developing user organization for management it is too early to evaluate if these organizations will rise to the challenge of maintaining the rehabilitated structures and in particular paying the cost of desilting the tanks and ponds to keep them fully functional.
MS Danielle Nierenberg
Summary: The project ran from 2009-2011 to combat desertification through Farm Ponds and other water harvesting methods in five districts in Tamil Nadu. The project partnered with Oxfam-Novib to increase water harvesting in drought prone communities on the coast. They helped build water harvesting structures (ponds, etc.) and train communities how to manage their water better. The project was highly participatory, including input from farmers, including women and the landless and other stakeholders.
Innovation for AGFUND objectives: This project has tremendous potential to improve health and livelihoods, as well as be replicated in other communities in India, sSA, and elsewhere.
Project design and management: They used participatory practices to include the coastal communities they were working with from the very beginning of the project—and instead of telling them what they needed, they asked them what they needed. They also focused on building strong farmers associations.
Relevance to theme of prize: The project has the potential to improve social interaction and action among farmers, improve health, improve livelihoods, and be sustainable over the long term because it’s promoting resilience to climate change and extreme weather events.
Impact: In addition to increasing availability of water for irrigation, the project increased the amount of and quality of water available to both people and livestock. It also had a number of side benefits, including social inclusion—the farm point improved the social environment and they became part of the public domain. In addition, the project wasn’t just about building water tanks, but diversifying farming practices, improving incomes, and building resilience.
Relevant beneficiaries: Small and marginal farmers, including women. What’s impressive to me about this project is that they realized early on that they weren’t including women and other marginal groups as much as they could be and they changed their strategy to be more inclusive of these groups. I don’t know, however, how much the project targets youth. It has benefits for youth (health, hygiene, etc.), but I’m not how much young people are involved in the project itself. Youth, especially girls, don’t have to travel as far for water so that has increased school attendance.
Transferability/adaptability: I think the lessons from this project are highly adaptable and replicable in other parts of India, as well as Africa and other drought-prone regions. They’re developing a best practices manual that will help other groups learn from their successes.
Efficiency of financial management: It’s hard for me to determine from the budget they provided how well the money is used, but I think that the results speak for themselves. I think that if they get additional funding they’ll use it effectively based on what they’ve been able to do so far. One of their references indicated that a 3 year grant for the project was too short and I agree. Most development organizations, especially in agriculture, need at least 5 years to get the projects off the ground and get the necessary structures, partners, etc. in place. In addition, I think that their experience with Oxfam as a partner gave them the ability to try different things with the funding to see what worked. Organizations like DHAN rarely have the luxury of experimenting and I think that they were able to change their practices based on their research and experience as the project was going on. This is something that needs to be built into more projects.
Fulfillment of project objectives: The overall objective of this project was to increase food and environmental security and increase incomes.
Sustainability: The project involves farmers input from the very beginning through participatory research and evaluation and it focuses on creating strong farmers groups and organizations, particularly among women. In addition, it emphasizes training and creating strong institutions that can continue long after funding is gone. They’re not just building new tanks or ponds in the communities, but also reviving old tanks and conserving the economic assets that the communities already have. They’re also making sure that the tanks and ponds will last for 25 years, which helps ensure that the communities will be confident in using them for the long-term.
Environmental impact: The Farm Ponds promote resilience to climate change by capturing rain for land that experiences huge fluctuations in rainfall. The ponds give farmers an insurance policy to ensure that their crops have access to water despite drought. And these ponds provide a number of side benefits including water for livestock and for raising fish, and agro-forestry,helping improve incomes. The ponds also help restore biodiversity and the micro ecology on farms—this helps increase beneficial soil microorganisms and improve soil quality.