Land development is making an area of land more useful. It is the act of making some area of land or water more profitable or productive or useful. Shashwat is an initiative which developed in response to a range of challenges related with the land faced by indigenous and tribal communities in the Pune district of India’s Maharashtra state. The initiative works with Koli Mahadeo, Thakar and Katkari tribal peoples displaced, or otherwise negatively affected, by the construction of the Dimbhe hydroelectric gravity dam. Construction of the Dimbhe Reservoir in 2000 completely submerged 11 tribal villages and resulted in the flooding of cropland in another 13 communities. Shashwat has worked to develop alternative, sustainable livelihood activities for those living around the area, including in villages within the dam’s catchment area and those communities negatively affected by demarcation of the Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary in 1985.
Land Development Programme
Developing land for agriculture and enhancing the possibilities of irrigation are the two crucial needs for food security and livelihood protection in tribal area. Shashwat has started working on developing plots for paddy cultivation by way of terracing since 1989. Padkai programme mainly focuses on this issue. However, while implementing the padkai programme, Shashwat encountered two major problems which were related to land titles (Khatephod) and ownership of land by money lenders over the generations (Savkar Jamin issue.)
Drawdown Land Cultivation
Through lobbying and partnership with local government & Tribal Dev. Dept., Shashwat has provided 186 farmers living in villages adjacent to the reservoir, with lightweight pumps and pipelines for crop irrigation on the cultivatable land which emerges when the water levels drop. Grain harvests have improved substantially, improving food security for an economically marginalized population & migration from 14 villages stopped last year.
Improving agricultural productivity
Each year, when the reservoir level drops and water is released through the dam for downstream irrigation, 400 to 600 hectares of land become available for seasonal planting. To enhance and expand local agricultural options, Shashwat lobbied the government for permission to work with the displaced communities to farm this land and make it productive. The government agreed to lease the land at half the standard land use charge and nearly 180 farmers are now growing crops on about 200 hectares of land.
An additional obstacle was that, until 2006, local farmers lacked the equipment necessary to irrigate these lands, thereby limiting the types of crops they could grow and their ability to maximize harvest outputs. Again through a combination of lobbying and proposed partnership with the government, Shashwat was able to provide 65 farmers (in 13 farmer groups) with irrigation pipelines and light-weight hand-pumps. By 2012, over 200 farmers had been able to access 140 hand-pump and pipeline sets. The land is now being used to grow pearl millet, wheat, fenugreek, vegetables and potatoes, providing food security for three to four months of the year and supplementing other livelihood activities. Out-migration from the villages during this traditionally sparse work season has been substantially reduced.
Other broader efforts have been made to improve local agricultural productivity, including through partnerships with local academic institutions. From 2007-2012, students from the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai have undertaken 10-week internships with Shashwat. As one example of the contributions made by the interns, a group of students designed and constructed a two-kilometre irrigation channel to provide water to the village of Patan, an intervention which has seen a doubling of wheat harvests of local farmers.
On the agriculture side, the construction of paddy fields above the reservoir has helped to avoid siltation, controlling erosion and lengthening the functional life of the dam and reservoir. The steep gradation of the slopes, in combination with the region’s high annual rainfall, causes a great deal of soil erosion. With no interventions and no terracing, projected siltation rates for Dimbhe dam are in the range of 30 million cubic metres over the assumed 100-year life of the project. The paddy fields, however, trap silt far above the reservoir at an average rate of about 150 cubic metres of silt per 500 square metres terraced land. Shashwat complements its terracing work by planting of shrubs, trees and grasses on trench and mound structures on the banks of the reservoir to maintain soil integrity. The plants trap silt carried down by rainwater in areas where terraces donot extend all the way down to the water’s edge.
Securing land tenure
Shashwat is supporting local farmers to secure land tenure. The organization pushed for a needed update of land ownership documents to reflect the names of current owners and laborers in place of their ancestors. Shashwat also pioneered the practice of ‘village camps’ for upgrading land ownership documents and has received strong support from government officials in this activity. Between 2004 and 2010, 43 such events were held in the area by Shashwat and the government revenue department. The approach involves holding set days during which depositions from all claimants to village land are recorded. The names of those currently cultivating the land are then recorded on the land title documents in place of their ancestors, which makes it easier for community members to access government schemes and legitimizes their land tenure.
Padkai Program & Upgradation of land ownership records
Making paddy terraces of 300 –500 sq. meters area each, with stone bunds on steep hill slopes by all the farmers coming together and working on each other’s fields, is a traditional participatory self-help activity called Padkai. We partially supported about 200 families of 4 villages with grants to make one such terrace each year during 1989-93. This led to increase in food availability for the average tribal family from 6-7 months to about 11 months per year. The tribal people then put forth this scheme for consideration of the Govt. In June 2002, the Govt. of Maharashtra sanctioned this scheme on experimental basis for four tribal villages but with only one-third wages. The people completed the work by 2004 and we financially supported them. It was further realized that more than half the land ownership records were still showing the names of the great grandfathers. Hence in a four year long exercise by the Revenue Dept, Shashwat and the local villagers, up-gradation of land records was done in 39 village level camps, to reflect the names of the present day descendants. Govt of Maharashtra finally sanctioned the Padkai program of making paddy fields with large stone bunds on steeply sloping private lands in July 2009 for 38 villages after 9 years of lobbying efforts. Over 2000 farmers have already applied and plans are being sanctioned by the Agriculture Department.