Equipping communities to plan land and water conservation initiatives

Use of digital tools for implementing natural resources management at scale in rural India
19 Aug 2021
0 mins read
Digital planning tools like CLART can go a long way in achieving better land-use outcomes (Image: Foundation for Ecological Security)
Digital planning tools like CLART can go a long way in achieving better land-use outcomes (Image: Foundation for Ecological Security)

Less than an hour from the district headquarter of Bhilwara, women in village Bavdi in Jahazpur block had to walk for several miles in the scorching heat for a few litres of water. They would queue up for long durations to collect drinking water from the only well in the vicinity. The women had to repeat this exercise four to five times a day, in order to fetch sufficient water. Further, since this was the only source of water, it was used for domestic, livestock as well as irrigation needs, adversely impacting the already-stressed groundwater table in the area.

As across the country, women in these villages were suffering till Gayatri Sharma, a young woman from the village spearheaded a community programme to bring about a change in the community’s land and water use planning. With the support of the Foundation for Ecological Security, a non-profit organisation she facilitated knowledge sharing on land and water conservation, governance and management through the use of digital tools in her village.

Land degradation targets can be met through MGNREGA works using planning tools

Access to and proper use of natural resources such as land along with adequate technical capacities to design, plan and implement proper land use plans in rural areas can help deal with the challenge of natural resource depletion. India’s social protection programme Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) provides scope for convergence with other schemes to plan for rural land use planning around improvement in land and water resources.

Over 60 percent of the MGNREGA budget of INR 73,000+ crores are earmarked for employment and livelihood asset creation, mostly for the restoration of common land and water resources. However, currently, a major portion of such expenditure does not consider location-specific characteristics that determine recharge of groundwater or availability of surface water, as a result of which, measures are undertaken with suboptimal outcomes.

However, the interventions supported by the FES in villages such as Bavdi suggest that the use of digital planning tools such as Composite Landscape Assessment and Restoration Tool (CLART) can go a long way in achieving better land-use outcomes.

CLART is a Geographic Information System (GIS) based tool that provides location-specific information for planning soil and water conservation measures to enable decision making at the field level. Colour coded recommendations in a geo-enabled map provide ease in assessing the function of a structure i.e. recharge or storage.

The android-based tool is easy to use and the community is able to prepare technical estimates and labour budgets of the proposed structures for administrative sanction by the department.

CLART, at scale

The tool analyses publicly available data sets on lithology, geomorphology, lineament, watershed, drainage, slope, land use and land cover and makes recommendations through colour-coded maps on a mobile device, making it simple to use.

The tool is enabled to work without an internet connection. Village-level functionaries visit the locations and by using the inbuilt global positioning system (GPS) on their mobile phone, CLART guides them on site-specific recommendations for soil and water conservation measures. These recommendations are aligned with the specific activities allowed under MGNREGA and watershed programmes.

After identifying a location-specific intervention, the user can input basic measurements such as length, width and height (of the proposed activity) into the app-based estimation tool. Based on this, the tool generates an estimate of the cost of intervention, labour days and the engineering design for the proposed intervention. All the information is saved offline and synchronized with the server when online, for preparing detailed project plans.

This reduces the need for experts in the field. The system allows for remote scrutinizing based on the information from the field, location on the map, CLART recommendation, photographs on the site and the cost estimates.

CLART, at scale: Key aspects

  • Ease in the scientific planning process for the frontline worker: The user can easily make decisions based on the colour code provided in the CLART map through the app. The GPS will help the user to locate them on the particular colour at the field and get the recommendation for that particular location to identify the best suitable intervention for soil and water conservation. After the site selection, users can also prepare the design and estimate of the planned intervention for that location with minimum input such as dimensions of different interventions.
  • Ease in remote validation and approval of plans by technical staff: The engineers or technical staff can check the plan prepared at field remotely with a vetting process available in the CLART portal using field data (such as GPS location on the CLART map, Google map, photograph for site selection and excel based design estimate). Based on the suitability of the purpose of the soil and water conservation plan, the technical staff/engineer can approve or reject the plan.

Allows for participative planning with the community: The tool provides recommendations to understand recharge areas or areas suitable for surface storage in the field location. This also provides information on runoff zones and good zones for regeneration activities. The tool used during participatory planning exercises helps the community take decisions by integrating intuitive and scientific knowledge together.

  • Creates open and live artefacts that can be discovered and reused: The tool captures the GPS location of the plan made on the CLART map and google map, plus the photograph of the site and the detailed design and estimate based on the input data from the field of different interventions. These data get synchronized to a portal (server) as digital records (with date, time, location, village etc.,). These further get archived in the portal and can easily be used as live artefacts for future use.
  • Accuracy at which this problem be solved: CLART provides recommendations at 1:10,000 scale (approximately) and the accuracy level is 90%. It provides a colour-coded map in the mentioned scale as an output for the site selection process.

The digital tool can provide communities with a spatial view in an intelligible manner on issues of natural resources such as forests, land and water and help plan and strategize interventions around conserving forests and water resources as well as enhancing the livelihoods of communities.

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