How farm ponds in Madhya Pradesh are building agricultural resilience

A farm pond constructed by Sheshrao Dhurve in Karaghat Kamti village of Madhya Pradesh
A farm pond constructed by Sheshrao Dhurve in Karaghat Kamti village of Madhya Pradesh

Madhya Pradesh, promoted as 'The Heart of India' by the state's tourism board is aptly named so because of its central location. The campaign made me keen to visit the state, for the last many years. I was therefore extremely fortunate that during my internship with the Watershed Organization Trust (WOTR), I finally got an opportunity to do just that, that too not as a tourist or a traveler but as a young researcher keen on studying the water management scenario of villages in two districts of Southern MP - Seoni and Chhindwara.

The visit was undertaken in July 2019. My study was focused on farm ponds and their benefits to agriculture. Our first stop was the village of Atarwani in the Kurai tehsil of Seoni district, which overlaps with the Pench forest area. The village has a population of 442, with the majority of the people - mainly small and marginal farmers - involved in agriculture.

Surface ponds

In Atarwani, the structures that grabbed my attention were the numerous surface ponds, built in land depressions to collect the surface runoff, with an outlet to drain off the excess flow. On asking the farmers what they call these ponds, they laughingly replied "Dabra Dabri"! These structures have been quite beneficial for the farmers as they do not take up much space. They store water till the rabi season and use it when there is a dry spell.

On asking a farmer if the dabra-dabri takes up precious cultivable land and whether it hampers agricultural productivity for them, he replied "Agar pani rabi tak hu toh hum dusre crops ugaah sakte hai jisko kam pani lagta hai, zameen khali rakne se toh nuksaan hi hai" (if we get water till the Iseason, we can grow crops which require less water and can earn much higher than if the land was left bare).

This shows that the farmer was willing to use a part of his land to store water and retain the rest for agriculture.

The scenario in Karaghat Kamti

Traveling about 70 kilometres further from Atarwani to the Chhindwara plateau, the scenario in the village of Karaghat Kamti was quite different. Farmers here focussed on horticulture like orange plantations. There was not much investment in livestock as compared to the villages of Seoni. When we asked them why, they said the major investment in livestock is in fodder procurement, and the returns are not lucrative.

Like countless villages in India, the village was highly dependent on rainfall. Deficient monsoons hamper agriculture as well as the recharge of earthen check dams (ECD), ponds, and groundwater. This was visible from the dried orange trees visible on many farmers' plots, which were left unattended due to the unavailability of water. While the rains generally begin around the second week of June, this year they were delayed to the first week of July, further delaying the sowing of paddy seeds.

On our way to one of the individual farm ponds, I interacted with the farm pond owner, Sheshrao Dhurve. Mr. Dhurve, a farmer, answered our questions patiently and then went on to explain how the pond had been constructed, to allow runoff water from the farms to drain into the pond along with a stream line of 500 metres. Pointing to a mahua tree, he said, "The water fills up till there, and this water remains till the end of the second cropping season. So wheat and gram are cultivated along with other rabi crops. Now, the water lasts until the months of May–June."

He further explained that he utilised MGNREGA funds for this project, which was sanctioned in 2016, and the pond was built in 2017 with additional monetary support from the panchayat. He now also practices pisciculture and earns an extra Rs. 30-32,000 rupees per year. This has doubled his income to around Rs. 60,000 in the span of just a few years.

In the summer, Dhurve irrigates the orange trees with pipeline water from the pond. "Pani paryapat hai isliye drip vala system apan apnate bhi nhi, drip vala jaha pani ki kami hai vaha kaam aata hai." (The water is enough for my use. That’s why I don't use drip system; the drip is only used where water is less).

Could he grow more if he utilised the water wisely? "Itna pani bachta nhi hai ki ek aur kheti lele" (There is not enough water left to take another crop).

The crux of the issue, he explained, was that it was not enough to just build water harvesting structures. "The key part of management is the effective utilisation of stored water. Farm ponds are only useful if the management of water is given due importance, through measures like drip and sprinkler irrigation," he signs off.

Importance of farm ponds

From these examples, it can be seen that the farm pond has proved to be important in India's rainfed and semi-arid regions. The small area of the farm pond can be filled within a couple of rainy days, and can last through the dry spells, thus making it an attractive proposition. Farm ponds can play a major role in conserving water, and can indirectly contribute to agriculture and food security. The key aspect is to combine building farm ponds and similar water storage structures with efficient and effective management of the water stored there. This is the only way that a more water-secure future can be ensured.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of India Water Portal. India Water Portal does not take credit for the facts or opinions presented in this article. This is a voluntarily contributed article by the author, who interned at Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR).