That Bundelkhand might become water scarce by 2030 is a serious problem that the agricultural community in this area is battling. Time, resourcefulness, and intervention can avert disaster, and the ideological Avani Mohan Singh has been tireless in addressing this grave issue. The local hero wanted to address Uttar Pradesh’s perennially parched region’s cry for help, and show others the way.
Avani, 50, founded Haritika, a non-government organisation in 1994, and has been working to solve issues affecting the rural poor. From interventions on natural resources management, and provisions of infrastructure to make villagers living in the backward districts of Bundelkhand region self-reliant, Avani and Haritika’s efforts are already making a difference.
“The major land use (68 percent) is for cultivation, out of which more than 57 percent is rain-fed/and unirrigated agriculture. Moreover, hard rock region with poor soil cover makes it uncultivable due to shortage of irrigation water. For irrigation purpose, the farmers take loan from local money lenders and return them with high rate of interest,” he adds.
A land without water
A recent study, Vision Document for Bundelkhand, commissioned by the UP government, cautioned that Bundelkhand might become water-scarce by 2030. The region between River Yamuna and the northern part of the Vindhyan plains, it comprises seven districts – Banda, Chitrakoot, Hamirpur, Jalaun, Jhansi, Lalitpur, Mahoba, etc. A population of 78 lakh relies on perennial rivers like Yamuna, Ken, Betwa, Sindh, and Pahuj for its water needs. Over 75 percent of the population depends on agriculture as a primary livelihood, with 96 percent of the income generated from agriculture and livestock collectively. The study was conducted by the Church’s Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA) and Jan Kendrit Vikas Manch (a network of NGOs in Bundelkhand).
According to reports, there has been a 60 percent decline in rainfall in the past five years, and this concerned Avani and led him to start Haritika and address Bundelkhand’s water issues.
To initiate something at the grassroot level, an understanding of a region is of utmost importance. Since Avani has lived across the country as his father was in the Air Force, it helped him gain an insight on the issues, and the solutions.
Born in Assam, Avani studied in Gorakhpur, Delhi, Hyderabad, and Kanpur, with a short stint (primary school) in Baliya (UP), his hometown where he also looked after his ailing grandmother along with his father. During his masters in zoology in Kanpur, Avani spotted a newspaper ad of a one-year course by the Centre for Environment Education, (supported by the Ministry of Environment and Forests) – Training in Environmental Education. During the course, he worked with various environmental foundations and charitable trusts, and did exhaustive developmental field work across the country.
After a year of intensive field work, Avani got a ‘proper’ job, and joined a pharmaceutical company in Mumbai. Yet, his heart was still in developmental work, and Haritika became his tool to express his social responsibility.
His first project was helping the government supply drinking water to villages in the region.
Funding woes could have derailed his plans. But Avani worked with national and international charitable trusts to address this. Haritika helps corporates like Coca Cola India, Livepure, Rio Tinto, Mahindra & Mahindra, HDFC Bank, etc in CSR activities that include project development, implementation, operations, and maintenance.
Quenching farmers thirst
Avani is very proud about Haritika’s key role in the Integrated Watershed Project, which the Coca-Cola India Foundation launched in 2013. It involved rainwater harvesting and water conservation in the Bundelkhand region. The project is a joint effort of Coca-Cola India, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), and Haritika along with national partners National Research Centre for Agro-Forestry (NRCAF), district administration, and the local community.
“It helped improve the economic conditions of the residents of Parasai-Sindh region by increasing water availability and cultivable land,” Avani says.
Thanks to the project, farmers have started harvesting wheat ranging from 3,500-4,000 kg per hectare (on an average), which has significantly improved income and livelihood. Farmers also shifted from low-water requiring crops to high-value crops.