-Arpan Golecha and Isha Fuletra
The initial few days at any organisation are all about getting to know it better. One tends to read about the organisation’s journey, its work, achievements and failures. While we were busy doing the same at WOTR, there was something atypical everyone kept talking about “the field”. Some said, “At WOTR, you will get a lot of field exposure”, or “Ah! Field is always good!” It almost seemed like there was dichotomy in the world here- the desk in the predominantly cream coloured office and the Field.
After spending a week in the office reading about climate change, agriculture, farmers etc. and meeting new people (some of whom had come back after weeks in the field), we were awaiting our excursion. The visit to Bhojdari village in Ahmednagar district was an opportunity that came knocking on our doors at the perfect time. We did not know “the field”. So what should we expect to see there? There was excitement and confusion. The experiences shared by our colleagues stressed on the importance of having a thorough understanding of the grassroots for efficient implementation of intervention activities.
The following day, we left for Sangamner from Pune. We reached Ahmednagar district, primarily a semi-arid region after a four hour long journey. The vegetation was astounding at this time of the year, because of the monsoon rains. Driving further for an hour we met Prashant Kalaskar, who is in-charge of our regional resource centre in Sangamner. The discussions with him revealed that a series of events and activities had taken place at Bhojdari under the Indo-German Watershed Development Program and Climate Change Adaptation projects.
Bhojdari is a small village located in the Mula river basin with a watershed area of over 1100 hectares of which 50% is public land and covered by forests. Moreover, it has 300 to 350 households in its fold, dominated by farmers who depend on a variety of crops such as maize, peas, groundnuts, pomegranate and pearl millet for their livelihood. Surrounded by mountains and plateaus, Bhojdari has no mobile networks but some houses have TV connections.
We had read about WOTR’s ideology of Shramdaan and the significance it holds, but had never imagined that it could transform a patch of dry land to a lush green area. It was hard to believe that this is a drought-prone region. We were now trying to comprehend WOTR’s motivation to relentlessly work in the field of watershed development. But, the question was how much of these efforts and activities had actually borne fruit. We were yet to discover that. Hence, we decided to have a discussion with the villagers.
We entered a small room marked by a man waiting for us. He was Somnath, the Jal sevak at Bhojdari. As soon as we came, he went away unnoticed and returned with a bunch of people while we were admiring the charts, boards and the work that these villagers had put in. It was now evident that none of the greenery we saw had come easy. We all sat on the cool floor after greeting each other. There were 5 people from the village – the Sarpanch, an elderly person by the name of Babu Rao Ughle, a white-clad man whom the rest referred to as Patil and two very silent spectators.
The discussion helped us uncover a lot of things like the room where we sat in was the place where the Village Development Committee (VDC) had their regular meetings. The VDC had started as an exercise to facilitate a dialogue between the villagers and the decision makers. Today, it had all the support from the Panchayat in its decisions. The farmers talked about their problems with delayed rains and their appreciation of the agricultural know-how that they now had . But the highlight was when Baburao Ughle said “Hum toh bhagwaan se yahi dua mangte hai ki aise sansthaa yaha se kabhi jaye hi nahi” (we pray to God that such an organisation never leaves Bhojdari). This added to our curiosity. As he explained his take, the picture became clearer. Some of them claimed that the interventions had helped them learn how to get more profits from the limited resources (be it water or land) they owned. We also discovered that most of the structures and activities done in the past continue to be of great help to them even today.
The discussion meandered around the crops they plant throughout the year, the irrigation techniques, the seasons and the rainfall as well as the intervention activities WOTR carried out on gender issues and women representation and empowerment. It was also interesting to see that they availed government schemes as well as services from NGOs like ours. They were unabashed in saying that they needed help and that today Bhojdari was a prosperous village with fertile soil and a cohesive community because of the efforts of other institutions .
Mr. Patil gave us a tour of the village. We saw check dams, farm ponds, contour trenches, drip irrigation, composts and vermi-composts. During the journey, we also met a few other villagers who valued our work. They offered us pea pods and groundnuts and were more than receptive of our intrusion. We got to know how they manage to get through the summer and winter months when there is a dearth of water in the rest of the district. They’ve had an association with us for close to 20 years and they seem to have benefitted from it. It felt like we had done something important, touched the lives of these people, in an obscure village, few people stop to think about. It was an enriching and interesting experience after which we parted ways.
Back in office, a colleague told me, referring to the construction workers majorly migrated from villages, that we eat at their places, give them respect and importance on the field. But here, in a city like Pune, they go unnoticed and it seems like we have a different world here. However, both of these places bring out something in us- the need to do something meaningful through action (on field) and research (in office). Both worlds collaboratively function together to give an output of a better life to the community.