Helped by NGOs women in five small villages in Uttarakhand have transformed their lives using water harvesting, kitchen gardens, and organic farming

Women bear the brunt of agricultural work in South Asia’s mountain regions [image by: Juhi Chaudhary]

Women bear the brunt of agricultural work in South Asia’s mountain regions [image by: Juhi Chaudhary]

“Earlier it used to rain gently over many days and the rain didn’t fall continuously. That used to be good for our fields and to replenish water springs downhill but now that has changed,” said Kidi Devi who lives in the village Moan in the Himalayan Indian state of Uttarakhand. It is a village that is very tough to access due to difficult mountainous terrain. “Over the years the rain has become erratic and untimely. It destroys our fields and we face a big problem of water availability.”

“It snows much less in winters than it used to, and because of this our water springs are drying gradually,” Anita Bahuguna who lives in a nearby mountain village called Ranichauri, around 6 kilometres uphill from Chambaghat falls in Tehri Garhwal district, joined in to explain the situation.

But in 2011, a positive turn came to their lives when the NGO Women Action For Development (WAFD) started a project in five different villages near Chamba. The aim of the project was to train womenfolk as “climate leaders” so that mountain communities could adapt better to the effects of climate change and to better use scarce natural resources. Soon rooftop water harvesting structures were setup in some houses to collect and save the most precious natural resource – water.

For a city dweller who receives water supply through taps, slight changes in rainfall pattern may not make much of a difference but for women like Kidi Devi and Anita Bahuguna, who rely directly on natural resources for their day-to-day living, even a slight change in rainfall pattern can spell doom for their fields and increase their labour when it comes to collection of water and other natural resources. Added to that, the rain exacerbates the danger in navigating the treacherous mountain terrain on which these women (and often young children) have to carry heavy buckets and pots full of water both uphill and downhill.

A roofwater harvesting tank [image by: WAFD]

A roofwater harvesting tank [image by: WAFD]

“We are very happy with the initiative. It has brought a huge difference in our lives. Earlier children didn’t get any time to study as they would be required to go and fetch water right after they returned from schools. But ever since we have started harvesting water, children can go for their tuitions instead,” said Bahuguna, beaming.

Significant evidence now exists to show that climate change impacts women more than men, primarily because of the social roles they inhabit. That is why WAFD has collaborated with INSEDA (Integrated Sustainable Energy and Ecological Development Association) to help women take a lead in sustainable development in the region. Their partnership is focusing on making a difference in women’s lives under the eco-village development programme, a volunteer based initiative.

Anita with her compost basket [image by: WAFD]

Anita with her compost basket [image by: WAFD]

Rainwater harvesting tanks are made from baskets woven from strips of bamboo that are reinforced by cement and concrete to lend strength and for leakage proofing. With a capacity of 3,000 litres each, they collect water from the rooftop of houses and store into tanks that can be used in dry season. It is helpful in storing both the tap water and the groundwater for those periods of water scarcity.

“WAFD helps us financially while we provide labour and contribute 25 katta of sand and 6 katta of cement (1 katta= 25 kg) for each tank,” added Devi as she led the hard uphill way to Guriyali village, which suffers the most from water scarcity in the region. For this reason the most water tanks (22 out of a total of 46) have been installed in this village.

Zareen Myles, WAFD, told indiaclimatedialogue.net, “Guriyali has no water source and the women have to walk 3 kilometres to fetch water and they are forced to make many such trips daily. But with the water harvesting structures, many now just make one or two trips.”

The natural water resource has dried in the Guriyali village over a period of time and now the villagers have no option but to rely totally upon rainfall which is becoming increasingly irregular. Due to the high altitude it took a long time to build a water pipeline to the village. But the water only comes as a trickle when it does and there is a big jostle to access the lone tap in a village of over 60 households.

The lone tap that supplies water to the village [image by: Juhi Chaudhary]

The lone tap that supplies water to the village [image by: Juhi Chaudhary]

Seeing the success of water conservation, there is now a big demand to create more such structures in the village especially by women who have to make up to 10 trips downhill on a daily basis to fetch water from the closest spring.

Pushpa is one such woman and a local farmer in Guriyali who is waiting for the setting up of water tank in her house to ease her burden. One has to climb steep steps cut in to the mountains to reach her house and go further down to her fields.

“There is a big problem of water and now we have cattle also, so there are children whose only job is to fetch water throughout the day as I also have to tend to fields. We have to make four trips (3 kilometres each) in the morning and four in the evening. We really hope a water tank is constructed soon so that we can breathe a sigh of relief,” she said while harvesting her pea crop.

Pushpa harvesting her pea crop [image by: Juhi Chaudhary]

Pushpa harvesting her pea crop [image by: Juhi Chaudhary]

With the advent of water harvesting and training in organic farming by WAFD, women are also now able to turn their kitchen gardens and fields into high yielding ones thus adding to climate resilience and ensuring their food security.

Women have been trained to weave compost baskets out of bamboo reeds and almost all the people in five villages – Ranichauri, Savli, Moan, Guriyali and Jagdhar – have replaced the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers with organic farming. This has increased the yield, ensuring economic stability and reducing effort.

“We already had kitchen gardens but we didn’t have knowledge and just used to throw seeds randomly which hardly used to yield anything. But now we have been trained to make separate beds and now even if a crop fails, we at least don’t go hungry and share our extra produce with villagers in need and we sell the surplus at the same time,” said Krishna from Savli village. “We have become self sufficient and are able to grow almost everything we need including condiments. We just need to buy sugar, oil, tea leaves and cumin.”

The transition to organic farming has allowed people to save INR 400 (USD 6.20) every season that they used to buy chemicals and pesticides, plus the quality of soil has also improved. With different crops with improved yield and taste, they are able to make INR 4,500-8,000 (USD 70-124) from their kitchen gardens annually. There are also indirect benefits that improve the climate resilience of the village.

“Due to chemicals used, the fields need to be watered every 3-4 days but with organic manure, we just need to water fields every 15-20 days and that saves a lot on our effort and money. Plus with urea, soil becomes very hard and we need to hire equipment to till the soil frequently but with organic manure, the soil remains loamy, porous and produces such nice tasting vegetables,” added Bahuguna.

The project may seem to be small scale but it is bringing big changes in the lives of these industrious mountain women who lead very hard lives on the frontlines of climate change.

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