Friday, 21 June 2013

IN THE FIELD – Making the most out of water for women in the eastern IGP (Indo Gangetic Plains)

(in-country visits by ACIAR’s research managers)

This month ACIAR’s Land and Water Resources program manager, Dr Evan Christen, visited the eastern Indo Gangetic Plains (IGP) region in northern India to scope the scene for an upcoming research project. He says the region faces many challenges, but there is hope for improving the livelihoods of the local people, particularly woman, through better water management...

Indian women and girl sitting


The people of the eastern IGP in northern India are amongst the poorest of the poor. This area of the world seems to have been left behind in the trajectory of India. 300 million people live well below the poverty line in a climate that seriously constrains their chances to earn an income for the basics of life.

village huts
Villagers' huts, with mud caked on walls to
prevent flood damage
For 4 months of the year, heavy rains fall and frequently produce vast floods (one bridge I crossed was 8km long to extend over the river in the wet season!). The remaining 8 months are dry. Rice and wheat are the two predominant crops here: the first planted in the wet and the latter in the dry. Yields for both are typically low due to poor varieties grown, erratic weather and lack of investment in inputs such as fertiliser. Most farmers do not use irrigation, nor have any methods to control their water supply. Many of the locals (about half) do not own any land, so their incentives and opportunities are severely limited. Those without land rely heavily on fishing from local ponds and gathering free-growing nuts and fruit.

Program manager sitting on ground talking to farmers
Dr's Fraser Sugden and Evan Christen
talking with local farmers
I met with a mix of people, from villagers to government representatives, to get a feel for what the current situation is and what might be done to improve things. Issues that need to be addressed include the historic ownership of land and water, the caste system, water use and distribution, and the roles of women. Some people seemed interested in growing vegetables as an alternative or extra crop that could provide income. Others simply weren’t interested since they had no control over the land. While there are clearly many challenges, I did see several examples of successful farming where people are growing things well.
The struggle with water was made evident by a man I met (pictured at left), who hand pumps water for a grueling 5 hours each day, to water his plants growing on a tiny parcel of land. I calculated that after all his efforts he only earns about $150 a year from his produce. He said he would love to have a powered pump, but fuel is too expensive and the electrical supply is inadequate.

I also met an elderly woman farmer (pictured at right) who was growing cucurbits (melons), having been provided with a water pump and training from a non-government organisation. She was doing well enough to have replaced the cumbersome treadle pump with a mechanised one, which made life a bit easier. Some of the other women I met were growing tomatoes, and selling sauce from their produce at the local markets.

Armed with this experience and continuing collaboration with in-country agencies, ACIAR will be supporting research in the eastern Gangetic plain. The research will particularly target women-headed households (about 50% of the households in the region). The aims will be to reduce the drudgery of getting water, to increase time available to do other things, and to provide water as a reliable source to help produce incomes and ultimately improve livelihoods.


By Dr Evan Christen, ACIAR's Land & Water Resources (LWR) program manager

More information:
ACIAR's Land and Water Resources program research in India
ACIAR's medium-term strategy for India and Nepal
Watch a video about water issues in the eastern IGP, from the International Water Management Institute

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