Water security has been one of India’s biggest challenges, with millions of Indians not having access to clean and adequate supply of water. India is placed 13th among the world's 17 ‘extremely water-stressed’ countries, according to the Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas released by the World Resources Institute (WRI).
In rural India, this challenge is intertwined with the most fundamental aspects of the communities’ social and economic well-being. Even within the marginalised communities, water scarcity mostly affects women disproportionately; it increases the drudgery of women - making them wake up early and walk long distances to fetch water.
Amidst this ongoing water crisis, there are women across the country who are making strides in water conservation. In June 2021, UNDP felicitated 41 Women Water Champions for their remarkable contributions to water-conservation efforts in India.
We are proud to share that, out of the 41 champions identified, five women - Pareshamma, Sarju Bai, Sagni Bai, Laichi Bai, and Gayatri Sharma - are from the Foundation for Ecological Security (FES) project areas in Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
Here, we share the story of Pareshamma, who managed to bring about note-worthy changes in her village, despite being ostracized for belonging to a marginalised community.
“Every creature on earth needs water every day. We need water for household needs as well as for crops. Nowadays, farmers dig bore wells for irrigating their crops, many a times overexploiting the groundwater. This has led to severe water scarcity. It is therefore, a necessity as well as our responsibility to conserve every drop,” says Pareshamma, a 30 year old Community Resource Person (CRP) from Thamballapalle.
Thamballapalle is a village located in the drought-prone district of Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh. The village’s history of cultivating water-intensive crops like tomato and paddy had severely impacted the local groundwater table. The continuous cultivation of these crops led to an alarming situation of water scarcity.
Pareshamma had attended several programs on millet cultivation, crop water budgeting, sustainable agriculture practices and groundwater games facilitated by FES.
Through these capacity building programmes, Pareshamma was introduced to practices, such as less-water-intensive millet cultivation, which she realized were critical to bring relief to the acute water scarcity situation being faced by the village community.
She facilitated meetings and discussions with the community and raised the issue of the disappearance of millets from their diets over the past 40 years. She tried to impress upon the farmers that millets required less water than paddy or tomato. She faced some pushback, since the income from millets was less than that from paddy. Also, millets didn’t have a strong market in the area since its consumption had reduced over the years. Families were unwilling to shift from paddy, which had become the core of their diet.
However, Pareshamma persisted and started advocating for the benefits of consuming millets and informed the farmers of the ill effects of consuming paddy, which was treated with chemicals and pesticides. She urged the community to revert to their traditional diet to stay healthy, while also informing them about how this shift will help solve the water scarcity in the area.
Soon, a few families started growing and consuming millets. Pareshamma and these farmers, who realized the benefits of the shift, started incentivizing other farmers by distributing seeds free of cost. Coincidentally, a village well had dried up mid-season, leaving several farmers in huge debts due to loss of agricultural yield. She leveraged this situation to urge famers to adopt the less water-intensive millet cultivation.
This worked and her efforts resulted in about 50 farmers shifting to millet cultivation. Of the 700 families in the village, around 200 have made millets a part of their diet.
Pareshamma’s efforts have made significant strides in water conservation in Thamballapalle - something she wants to take a step further by banning the drilling of new bore wells and encouraging more women to take part in conservation efforts. Her drive to promote water and food security amongst her village community continues. She wants to promote production and consumption of millets in more villages starting with her native village, Gopedinne.