Advocating Self Reliance and Sustainable Development

Katgaon, Osmanabad District, Maharashtra

Context

Katgaon, a village in the Osmanabad district close to the border that Maharashtra shares with Karnataka, was a classic example of the damage wrought by climate change and poor agricultural practices. Inadequate and untimely rains, rising temperatures and depleting water tables had led to drought, crop losses and the spread of disease amongst the community and their livestock populations.

Like in other villages of Marathwada region of Maharashtra, Katgaon’s population was heavily  reliant on agriculture for its main source of income. The villagers too had moved to growing cost-intensive cash crops like sugarcane and cotton over traditionally grown ones like millet and sorghum. Water-intensive agriculture had depleted the water table by as much as 65%, leaving bore wells and reservoirs dry. Continuous droughts over two years reduced the yield of crops like sugarcane, grapes, soyabean and onions further. In some cases, farmers cut their standing sugarcane crops and razed down their grape orchards, as there was no water available for irrigation. Fodder availability was also low. The situation was compounded by unpredictable weather conditions and rising temperatures, which led to an outbreak of infectious diseases within the livestock population.

The Community Disaster Resilience Journey

There were 40 active SHGs in Katgaon and a Krishi Mahila Mandal, which was set up with the help of SSP. The vulnerability mapping exercise, facilitated by SSP, witnessed the participation of over 150 women from the community. The key issues that came up were decreasing agricultural output due to vagaries of weather, the lack of quality drinking water, health and sanitation related problems and a pressing need for anganwadis. From the very outset, the group ensured maximal involvement of the Sarpanch and the Gram Panchayat and built their cooperation into all plans and activities.

To develop a partnership, both sides should recognize and respect each other: partnerships develop when there is confidence, trust and commitment.” —Sanjivini

As the women came together and took the lead in addressing local issues, they also gained confidence in their own abilities. Development committees on varied issues were formed so as to allow each group to imaginatively expand its ambit. The women worked hard to build relationships with the local- and district-level institutions to ensure support for their planned activities.

Building Partnerships

Scientists from Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) Tuljapur visited Katgaon to provide on-site training on organic farming, soil testing, local seed preservation and conservation. KVK collaborated with block- and district-level agriculture departments and trained 100 women in local seed preservation, soil testing and intercrop/mixed crop cultivation. Another 150 women were taught vermicomposting.

Twenty-five women farmers were also taken to Bangalore for a study tour organized by the district agricultural office that taught them about developing kitchen gardens and group farming.

Sixty-five women from Katgaon and nearby areas attended a ten-day-long training organized by SSP on community entrepreneurship. They actively participated in sessions that looked at the theoretical and practical aspects of starting and managing a business, conducting need analyes, marketing and account keeping. Following this, fifteen women started their own small enterprises, including cloth and bangles stores and stalls for homemade products like noodles, papads and milk.

In 2012, two farmers’ field schools were also organized to help women understand jowar and gram crop management. These programs built the capacities of women at grassroots and helped raise their confidence. They began slowly transforming into tough negotiators, ready to take charge of their land, village and its resources.

Water scarcity was another key problem that emerged during the vulnerability mapping. The women tackled it with the support from the GP and the MNREGA scheme. One hundred defunct wells were cleaned, deepened and widened at the cost of INR 2 lakhs per well. These were then recharged to build water sufficiency for the village. Soil was extracted from a 16-acre pond, the biggest water resource across Katgaon, at the cost of a whopping Rs 2 crores, by tapping into various schemes. The water from this pond caters to a vast variety of community needs, including livestock and agriculture. All these efforts have led to an increase in the ground water level as well as guaranteeing at least five years of water availability for agriculture and other purposes.

With the Gram Panchayat’s support, the women’s groups also accessed the Nirmal Abhiyan scheme, a Maharashtra and Central Government scheme for BPL families, which aided in the construction of much needed toilets for 35% households in the village. The women also succeeded in procuring land from the GP and, with support from the Women and Child development department, opened four anganwadis (child care centers) in the village.

The women’s groups also addressed the health concerns of the community by regularizing the functioning of the Primary Health Centre (PHC) at Katgaon. Although previously functioning, it was not running optimally as the doctor did not live in the village and was only available for a fixed period every day. Representations by the women’s groups and meetings organized with the district health officials led to the guarantee of a doctor’s presence in the village. Buoyed by the success of their negotiations, the group met with district authorities to further improve local health infrastructure.

One of the potentially hazardous practices identified by the women during the mapping exercise was the indiscriminate dumping of waste around the village. The SHG members worked with Gram Panchayat and, in a massive exercise that deployed 100 tractors, cleared the accumulated waste over a period of one month. Thereafter, the waste was segregated and the biodegradable component put to good use on the agriculture land.

Impact

The current goal of the women in Katgaon is to make their community 100% free from open defecation in the coming years by ensuring adequate toilet access for their population. They also ensure the periodic conduct of health melas and community checks, which assure check-ups for women for common health ailments like anemia and malnutrition. Today, the village and its residents have access to not just a doctor but also a nurse, a basic stock of medicines and an ambulance service. This health care centre is now accessed by more than 12 neighbouring villages.

The Gram Panchayat resolved the issue of unsafe drinking water by laying a new pipeline and installing a tank and filter to improve the water quality. As a result of this project, waterborne diseases in the community have reduced significantly in number. Waste accumulation, which had been a big issue in Katgaon, is now a thing of the past, as waste segregation continues to be adopted as a best practice.

The organic farming initiative that began over two years ago has been expanded to include more than 500 women in Katgaon. A measure of its success is the significant increase of over 30% in women’s earned income. Their role in improving their individual lives and those of the community has earned them respect and recognition. There has been a palpable improvement in the health of the community due to the use of organic home-grown vegetables and jowar (sorghum) cultivation for their personal consumption too. The community also reports a reduction in the expenditure on healthcare and vegetable purchases from the market.

Before any decision is taken on a development issue, the Sarpanch now takes the women’s groups into confidence. Block and district government officials have begun visiting the village regularly to keep them apprised of subsidies and other supporting schemes.

Today, a rich pool of more than 100 women leaders in education, health, sanitation has and community enterprises has been created. This ‘expert group’ from Katgaon has also visited around 40 villages in the neighbouring districts to share their skills and experience with other women. More than 50 women from other villages have visited Katgaon to learn about best practices in resilience building.

Emboldened by their success, women are eager to experiment with new varieties of crops as well as to try different agricultural techniques. Another group of five landless women took an acre of land at lease for a year for INR 5000 to start collective organic farming. They enjoy working together and believe that their investments will yield favorable results. The group is currently waiting for the rains to start sowing bajra and tur under inter-cropping and plan to use their own local seed in the future.

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