MARVI Living Laboratories – real-world training and capacity-building for groundwater users and managers

Understanding, communicating and managing something invisible is a complex and challenging task. This is the case of groundwater, which accounts for 99 per cent of all liquid freshwater on Earth but is poorly understood and consequently undervalued and mismanaged. According to the UN Water Development Report 2022, groundwater provides half of the volume of water withdrawn for domestic use by the global population. This includes drinking water for the vast majority of the rural population who rely on wells, and around 25% of all water withdrawn for irrigation. Groundwater is central to access to clean and safe drinking water, livelihood, food security and the health and well-being of communities. And groundwater literacy and capacity building of all involved is critical for the sustainable management of this resource.

The MARVI project, Managing Aquifer Recharge and Sustaining Groundwater Use through Village-level Intervention, has been in operation in Gujarat and Rajasthan, India since 2012. It was initially funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and for the last three years by AWP, especially to adapt the MARVI approach in the Government of India’s national groundwater project, the Atal Bhujal Yojana (ABHY).

For effective transfer of experiences and learning from MARVI for outscaling, two MARVI Living Laboratories – one in the Dharta Watershed in Rajasthan and the other in the Meghraj Watershed in Gujarat, India – have been established as part of the AWP project. The main aim of establishing these Laboratories is to help implement the MARVI approach – engaging and empowering communities in India to monitor, use and manage groundwater at the village level – in the ABHY groundwater project, and facilitate the learning of personnel responsible for the sustainable use and management of groundwater and sustainability.

MARVI has focused on developing a village-level participatory approach, with models and tools to assist in improving groundwater supplies and reducing its demand through the direct involvement of farmers and other affected stakeholders. A unique feature of MARVI is the use of scientific measurements by citizens through the engagement of Bhujal Jankaars, a Hindi word meaning groundwater informed’ volunteers.

The Laboratories are equally helpful in groundwater literacy and training of farmers, school children, village sarpanch, block and district level watershed development program staff or NGOs. The Laboratories were designed to help in learning about the science of monitoring and managing groundwater at the village level. The Laboratories are located in villages that have been engaged with MARVI rather than in a nearby town to give the trainees exposure to the real-world situation and allow them to interact with volunteers, farmers and village communities.

Key training resources including posters, brochures, booklets, slides and short videos on specific skills and concepts for training were developed. Training topics include hands-on measurements of groundwater levels, rainfall and water quality, mapping, water budgeting, and water security plans. The training also includes visits to managed aquifer recharge interventions to give the participants a real-world learning experience.

The resources developed for the MARVI-L are helping in the training of Bhujal Jankaars to enable them to become initial contacts for the training of new volunteers in the ABHY implementing states. The volunteers are also trained and coached in their communication skills to share experiences in training and demonstration workshops for the new Bhujal Jankaars. The Laboratories are empowering people and creating groundwater management solutions to achieve village groundwater security.

Over the duration of this project, six training events in the Dharta watershed and eight in the Meghraj watershed were conducted for the state government personnel involved in ABHY and other groups.

The experience from the pilot of MARVI-L indicates they are valuable and cost-effective in providing practical training to local villagers and those working on government projects and provide a proof of concept for adapting them beyond the MARVI project site.

Featured image: Women Bhujal Jankaars at the MARVI Living Laboratory in the Dharta Watershed in Rajasthan. Credit: Prof Basant Maheshwari from Western Sydney University
In-article image: Opening of the MARVI Living Laboratory at the Meghraj Watershed in Gujarat. Credit: Mr Ketan Bhai Gohil, Bhujal Jankaar Facilitator in the Meghraj Watershed in Gujarat