water conservation Environment

Inside Bala Vikasa’s six-village desiltation project across Telangana

The silt mounds from the tanks

The silt mounds from the tanks   | Photo Credit: Bala Vikasa / Verizon

The recently-completed project, funded by Verizon’s nationwide Corporate Social Responsibility programme, hopes to engender sustainable farming practices and ensuring ecological balance — minus the chemicals

Kotya Sekhar from Nalgonda is one of the countless farmers in Telangana who are bereaving water shortages. During the debilitating heatwaves of the past summer, he had to think twice before filtering out the available water for his family for cooking and bathing. The Nallakunta waterhole, no small trek from his aakulu farm, was dried up. Despite having two 1000-litre tanks at the ready, he and his community have found the shocking amounts of silt obstinately situated at the bottom of the tanks, which they’ve had to manually remove each time the tanks are emptied before they’re refilled.

Now the Telangana villages of Thimmakkapalli, Samudrala, Garnepalli, Konkapaka, Upparapalli, and Ranganayakagudem near Warangal have observed the completion of a wide-scale tank desiltation, which involves the slow and studied removal of sedimentary material (grains or particles of disintegrated rock, smaller than sand and larger than clay) often found at the bottom of water bodies. This addresses a long-term problem of the 45,000-plus small and medium tanks which are responsible for irrigating over 22 lakh acres across the state.

The old school methods
  • So what exactly happened centuries ago with desiltation? The rulers of these areas in rural Telangana ensured that one-third of the water always remains in the tank when the farmers open the tank gates; the gates are positioned in such a way that the flow doesn’t go past that level.
  • But that lower-third has silt so the amount of water saved is sadly inadequate for the later hotter seasons of the year.
  • Therefore the excavation of the silt and the deepening of the tanks were both helpful in mindfully conserving water which was clean. This is also how farmers prepared for extreme weather conditions, such as drought.

This project is headed by city-based non-profit Bala Vikasa and is funded by Verizon’s Corporate Social Responsibility programmes across the country. Bala Vikasa’s core values and operations revolve around sustainable development; they work specifically with rural villagers, empowering them with the right tools and skills to shape their futures. Their executive director Shoury Reddy Singareddy is ecstatic at the empowerment of the 700 farmers they’ve worked closely with for a long time.

20 years in the making

“We started this project 20 years ago in 1999 and we’ve pioneered the design of this kind of community-driven desiltation activity,” he starts. “But we did not create desiltation, of course, it’s a centuries-old technique. Every summer when the tanks are dry, farmers would use their bullock-carts and the labour to excavate the silt and transport it to the farms. This was a self-maintained behaviour. But now, farmers are having fewer cattle so that means mechanised cultivation. This means farmers lose the habit of silt application in the farm. So our programme was familiarising the farmers with the technique and with the renovation of the tanks for storing water.”

He adds the silt in the farmland will improve soil fertility and reduce chemical application by 60 percent, which incurs improved rates of water percolation and more ground water in the water bodies.

A tractor transporting the silt mounds

A tractor transporting the silt mounds   | Photo Credit: Bala Vikasa / Verizon

Shoury adds that there was no issue with communicating these old school processes but rather to re-innovate for the 21st Century as well as to inculcate financial literacy. “The farming community in these regions is highly invested in this project as is evident by their willingness to share part of the costs incurred towards tractor rentals. We motivate the farmers to make wise investments for the long-run. For example, if a farmer is cultivating one acre of chillies, cotton or another average crop, they are spending ₹5,000 to ₹7,000 on chemical fertilizers; so we try to give them the necessary calculations. It’s better for them to spend ₹4000 on the transportation of the silt to the farmlands via a tractor, they’ll ultimately see a 70% decrease in their expenditure.”

Representative image: Villagers returning from desilting work of ponds at Komatipalli in Vizianagaram district, about 70 kms from Visakhapatnam.

Representative image: Villagers returning from desilting work of ponds at Komatipalli in Vizianagaram district, about 70 kms from Visakhapatnam.   | Photo Credit: K_R_DEEPAK

Ultimately, chemical application is good for one season but desiltation invites better benefits for the next six to seven seasons and less hassle to the pre-existing ecologies of the farmlands, inviting scope for organic farming and permaculture methods too.

That said, once completed, there will be two remarkable outcomes: 1500 acres of farmlands will receive silt, and water percolation rate will improve significantly, thereby increasing water table levels in and around the village.

The project doesn’t stop there; it has the scope to adapt to other states and farming communities. That said, farmers including Kotya Sekhar will be empowered to focus more on their farmland and their family well-being for the future.

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Printable version | Mar 30, 2020 5:18:25 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/bala-vikasa-and-verizon-desiltation-project-in-six-villages-across-telangana/article28852519.ece

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