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10th International Rainwater Catchment Systems Conference
"Rainwater International 2001"
Mannheim, Germany - September 2001

Section 4: Rainwater Catchment in Agriculture

Paper 4.1

Efficacy of the Small Water Harvesting Structures in a Dryland Region in India: Implications for Crop Productivity

Amita Shah
Gujarat Institute of Development Research
Ahmedabad 380 060


Small water harvesting structures were important sources of irrigation before the advent of big dams and canal systems. While these structures serve as a major device for ground water recharge, especially in low rainfall/dryland regions, they are often viewed as having limited economic benefits. The recent revival of interest in small water harvesting structures however, is an outcome of the increasing environmental concerns, particularly due to depleted ground water resources in large parts of the country. While the primary objective of such measures is to improve recharging of ground water, they often provide a source of supplementary irrigation. Hence, if properly introduced, these measures can ensure economic viability which in turn, may induce private investments. What is however missing in these efforts is (a) mechanism of sharing of benefits with those who do not derive any direct economic gains from such structures; and (b) emphasis on water use efficiency such that it improves the ground water table to a sustainable level. One of the possible ways to overcome this distributional problem is to make smaller structures, like farm ponds, on a large number of privately owned farms which in turn may cater to a large number of farmers, especially those who otherwise cannot afford investing in private wells and/or remain outside the reach of small irrigation schemes.

Given this context, the government of Gujarat (a federal state in India) has initiated a Farm Ponds Scheme in 1995-96. The major objectives of the scheme are twofold: (i) to recharge the ground water table; and (ii) to improve crop yield through increased soil moisture and supplementary irrigation. Generally, these ponds are made on farmers fields and in vicinity of the irrigation wells. The ponds are typically of small size i.e. of 12, 14 and 15 square meters. The corresponding costs are about US$ 180, 270, and 310 respectively. Despite the fact that the scheme is likely to generate 'substantial' private benefits to farmers, the state is subsidising 85 per cent of the cost. A likely corollary of such a high degree of subsidisation might be low incentives for water-use efficiency as well as maintenance. Besides these, given the budgetary constraints, the scheme with a high rate of subsidy for all categories of farmers may have only limited coverage. Very often this might be at the cost of the poor farmers. By 1996-97 about 6868 ponds were made in different districts with special concentration in the dryland/semiarid regions in the state. The present analysis is based on a larger study involving a primary survey of 688 farmers in the major districts of Gujarat. The survey consisted of about 10 per cent of the total 6868 ponds, selected from each district, on a pro-rata basis.

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