The Australian Water Partnership has provided support to Western Sydney University to refine and upscale the outputs of a groundwater project recently completed in India.
The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) project, Managing Aquifer Recharge and Sustaining Groundwater Use through Village-level Intervention (MARVI), focused on training farmers in groundwater management in the Indian states of Rajasthan and Gujarat.
MARVI outputs have attracted significant interest from the Government of India, State Governments of Rajasthan and Gujarat and the World Bank. As part of the project, local farmers, known as Bhujal Jankaar, have been equipped with the skills and tools to monitor groundwater levels and rainfall, check dams and assess water quality to manage and share groundwater at the village level.
Village Groundwater Cooperatives (VGCs) have also been established in Rajasthan and Gujarat to help develop village-level mechanisms and institutions to augment aquifer recharge and share and sustain groundwater use. These VGCs are the first of their kind in India and they will assist with the out-scaling of MARVI at the national level.
From February 2019, Western Sydney University (WSU) has been leading the out-scaling of this project across rural areas in Rajasthan, Gujarat and five other states of India, in preparation for the Government of India’s Atal Bhujal Yojana / Atal Groundwater Program (ABHY) project, aimed at improving groundwater management through community participation to facilitate adoption of efficient water use practices.
Professor Basant Maheshwari from WSU said, “We have been working with Australian Partners – CSIRO Land and Water and Sustainable Futures Institute – and Indian Partners – the Development Support Centre, Vidya Bhawan Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Arid Communities and Technologies and Maharana Pratap University of Agriculture and Technology – to promote the MARVI approach and encourage its continuation and adoption in various locations facing groundwater challenges.”
Over the last four months, the three VGCs in Rajasthan have been formally registered with the Government of Rajasthan’s Registrar of Cooperatives, and two are being registered with the Government of Gujarat. A number of issues and ideas have been explored through focus group meetings with VGC members, and following the formation of these VGCs in Rajasthan, farmers have also begun working together to find solutions to other shared challenges such as establishing common fencing to stop wild blue bulls destroying crops.
A smartphone app, ‘MyWell’, was developed through the MARVI project to display current data alongside historical data for simple comparison, analysis and decision making. Recently, MyWell has been refined and updated to include water quality and check-dam water level monitoring along with groundwater level and rainfall monitoring. Version 2.0 of the application was released in May 2019 and is currently being utilised in India and trialled in Pakistan, Laos and South Africa.
During April–May this year, Australian researchers also collected extensive data to identify the drivers and barriers of women’s participation in groundwater management. There were 130 face-to-face interviews conducted in Gujarat and Rajasthan, and the data will be analysed and presented in one of four workshops to be held as part of the out-scaling exercise.
Currently, WSU and partners are working with the Joint Secretary of the Government of India’s Water Resources Ministry to incorporate the MARVI approach of training ‘Jal Doots’ (water messengers) in a new participatory water management program being implemented in 100,000 villages across India.
Over the remainder of the project, activities will focus on promoting the MARVI approach – developing additional VGCs and training cooperative members, developing new or improved tools for estimating groundwater recharge from local check dams and direct well recharge, continuing to engage with Bhujal Jankaar and village communities already using the MARVI approach – so that they can remain effective demonstration and training sites, and developing resources for implementing Village Groundwater Cooperatives in the ABHY project.