Madhuben has lived with water scarcity throughout her life. She stood in queues for hours to source drinking water when she was a child, borrowed money for a borewell that never yielded water and could cultivate only one acre of her total landholding. When she had grandchildren, she realised that agriculture could no longer sustain her family. The canal in their village gave four months of erratic supply. She mobilised women farmers to petition to the canal authorities to get longer access to canal water. She then motivated a group of enterprising women to start a vermicompost business. It helped famers cut down the water required while adding to their earnings. Madhuben believes that her village is her family. Working together is the only way to surmount their challenges.
I was born and raised in Himmatnagar with two brothers and sisters. We went to school as my parents saw educations as the means to a secure future. Our village faced acute water scarcity. Our water requirements at the time were smaller as compared to today, yet getting water was not easy. There were 7 wells in my village and one family member was always at the well to fetch water for the family’s water needs.
I was married when I was in my eleventh grade and moved to Lolasan. My in-laws were against my education, so I had to discontinue my studies. They wanted me to learn more about farming and cattle-herding. I didn’t even know how to cut fodder and would engage a labourer, paying him a small amount to cut it for me.
Soon, I realised that this was an unsustainable way of living. I was spending money to collect fodder without learning anything. I also feared that my in-laws would find out about my scheme. All these factors compelled me to learn more about farming. At Lolasan as well, water was scarce and sourcing water for irrigating our ten acres of land was hard. So, we often irrigated only one out of the ten acres we owned. I asked my parents for money to construct a bore-well. They helped but we didn’t get water even after digging 500 feet. We had to continue to depend on rains to irrigate our fields.
Our village came under the canal command area and water supply was controlled by the district water board. We got the canal water only for four months during the Rabi season from November to February. Even during these months, the water supply was erratic. To source drinking water, I had to walk long distances to source it from the nearby well. We spent a large part of our time and money securing water for irrigation and drinking.
In 2004, I joined a group set up by an organisation* that came to our village to work on improving water access in our area. Excited, I motivated the women of my village to join this group as well. In these meetings, each of us discussed how we could solve our water problems. The men in our village also did nothing to solve our water issues. Several of them were alcoholics, who never engaged with the administration to fight for access to water. It was upto us women to do something.
We held meetings with several government officials and pushed the administration to extend availability of the canal water. After repeated visits, we forced government officials to come to our village and understand our situation. Soon, we had canal water for eight months of the year. Even though this was a small win, the unpredictable nature of water supply and rainfall did not solve our problems forever.
In 2008, I joined a women’s saving group. It was hard convincing fifty members of my village to join this group. We started with twenty, and slowly had all the women join our group. Meetings were held on the fourth of every month. We started by saving 25 rupees every month.
I encouraged our group to start vermicomposting. This way we could avoid sourcing manure from the market and earn by selling our excess produce. Using vermicompost on my field reduced the amount of water needed for farming and improved my yield. Many village members started using vermicompost after I spoke to them about its benefits. We decided to turn it into a venture. We visited groups in different villages to look at their compost pits. The organisation helped us procure nets and design a shed for this setup. We packaged and sold our excess produce. Through this work, my income has increased threefold over the past four years. As household expenses rise, I feel it is very important for both women and men to earn for the family as equals. We should contribute alike for the growth of our villages and our homes.
When we started as a savings group, I remember how it was very hard for us to understand procedures in a bank. I didn’t even know how to sign under my name. But through training, we soon started calculating interest and maintaining our passbooks. Today, we have four and a half lakhs in the bank. We give loans for education and marriages through our group and have always received money back on time.
“Our experience in a group has made us more self-reliant and aware. The group has become one unit, and we think of our growth as a village, never as an individual or a family. The village benefits from our values of trust, honesty and togetherness. Whenever, any young woman joins our group, that’s the first lesson I speak about. Without our values, no one will ever help others in times of need”
HUF’s partnership with CIPT aims to work with Punjab’s farmers through a network of cooperatives to promote adoption of water savings practices, enable access to water saving technologies and promote diversification of their crop mix. Solutions include dissemination of digital soil moisture technologies, measurement of yield improvement and input cost reduction from adoption of water smart farming practices and innovative incentives to encourage large scale adoption of conscious water practices.
The programme will cover 100 farmer cooperatives over 250 villages. An estimated 20,000 farmers will benefit through adoption of practices on 80,000 hectares of land.