Mumbai

Meet Maithili Appalwar who promotes water conservation in drought-prone regions

Maithili Appalwar and her team have helped farmers conserve an estimated 200 billion litres of water.

Maithili Appalwar and her team have helped farmers conserve an estimated 200 billion litres of water.  

Mumbai youngster has taken upon herself the task of promoting water conservation in drought-affected and water-scarce areas of Maharashtra

A young Mumbai woman is showing that people in the big city are not entirely cut off from the difficulties of those living in drought-prone areas of the State.

Maithili Appalwar (22) has taken upon herself the task of promoting water conservation in drought-affected and water-scarce areas of Maharashtra and Rajasthan to help farmers grow crops and earn a living.

5,000 artificial ponds

Along with her team of youngsters, she has helped farmers conserve an estimated 200 billion litres of water at over 5,000 artificial ponds across Maharashtra and Rajasthan. Through Jalasanchay, a water conservation solution aimed at economically disadvantaged farmers, Ms. Appalwar moves around in rural areas telling farmers about the benefits of artificial reservoirs.

Ms. Appalwar returned to India after completing her graduation from Georgia Institute of Technology, USA a year-and-a-half ago and joined her parents’ polyethelene and polypropylene product manufacturing company, Emmbi Industries Ltd, to spearhead Avana, a strategic business unit created for her to focus to water conservation.

Through Avana, her team digs eight ponds per day for farmers and ensuring water supply at a storage cost of one paise per litre per year. Water stored in over 5,000 artificial ponds has irrigated over 10,000 hectares of land and more such ponds are in the making. She estimates that only 15% of water stored in such ponds is evaporated, leaving the rest to irrigate farms.

The idea of Jalasanchay is simple. One needs to dig a large pit in the farm land and cover it with a polymer lining that prevents water from seeping into the ground. This artificial pond can capture rainwater, surplus water from rivers or water procured from other sources, which is then used to irrigate farm land throughout the year.

The need to conserve

India is among the most water-stressed countries in the world, according to a World Bank report. At least 68.8% of Indians are dependent on agriculture but only 14% of them have the certainty of income through micro-irrigation.

In 1950, India had 3,000-4,000 cubic metres of water per person. Today, this has fallen to around 1,000 cubic metres, largely due to population growth. On the other hand, China has twice the amount of water per person at about 2,000 cubic metres.

The challenge before India is a fast-changing rainfall pattern: sudden downpours, cloud bursts and flash floods. Most of the rain water flows away, failing to recharge the water table.

Capturing this surplus water and conserving it is critical for farmers, who depend on it for their livelihood. But traditional water conservation solutions, such as concrete tanks, are unaffordable for most Indian farmers. This is where artificial ponds come to the rescue.

As per Avana’s calculations, at Re.1 per litre per year, water from the Jalasanchay scheme costs one-tenth of a concrete tank for the same size of water storage, making it viable for poor farmers.

Ms. Appalwar said the use of this technique has helped conserve 200 billion litres of water in Ahmednagar, Aurangabad, Jalna, Parbhani, Beed, Solapur, Pune, Sangli, Satara, Kolhapur, Jalgaon, Buldhana, Dhule, Washim, Hingoli and Nashik in Maharashtra, as well as Jaisalmer, Bikaner, Churu, Shri Ganganagar, Hanumangarh, Nagaur and Bhilwara in Rajasthan over three years.

An artificial pond can come up with an investment of ₹2.15 lakh and can store 45 to 50 lakh litres of water, sufficient to irrigate 5 acres of land. “We have done extensive ground work in Marathwada and Yavatmal in Maharashtra, which are farmer suicide-prone areas. And we have seen that due to lack of water conservation, people can’t grow crops and don’t have money even for basic necessities,” she said.

“Jalsanchay is a like a direct personalised irrigation system and puts power back in the hands of the farmer. We are involved in awareness initiatives, financing tie-ups, pond engineering design, crop advisory and new sources of income for farmers,” she said. Realising the importance of artificial ponds in water conservation, various State governments have started subsidy schemes to help farmers increase their income.

For example, Maharashtra provides 65% subsidy for an entire proposal, while Rajasthan in some cases provides 50% and in others, 100% subsidy depending on the area.

In 2018, NITI Aayog had ranked Rajasthan at first place in water conversation as it registered a significant increase in groundwater levels.

The water stored in artificial ponds is used in micro irrigation, which is gradually growing in India. In Israel and Russia, micro irrigation is to the extent of 80% to 90% as compared to 20% in India.

Ms. Appalwar believes there is scope to grow micro irrigation in India. To reach out to more farmers, she creates awareness and helps in financing. Her company undertakes the task of digging and delivering the end product.

The next phase

It is also into crop advisory for farmers, telling them what to grow based on demand and is now looking at getting into water management.

Having grown her scope of work in Maharashtra and Rajasthan, Ms. Appalwarand her team are getting ready to enter Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Haryana to help in water conservation.

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Printable version | Mar 31, 2020 1:57:44 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/changing-lives-one-drop-at-a-time/article27528259.ece

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