In the rain dependent drylands of India, erratic rainfall and drought result a drastic fall in agricultural production and acute water scarcity for drinking and livelihood purposes. Traditional knowledge and local water governance practices of rural communities are unable to cope with these risks and losses. Hence, it is necessary to equip them with the knowledge and tools to take informed decisions at the farm, enterprise and community level to enhance resilience and adaptive capacity.

In October 2015, Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR) launched the Water Stewardship Initiative (WSI) that seeks to facilitate this cognitive and organizational shift by bringing science, policy and governance together at the level of practice and community action (more about WOTR at

The approach adopted is “co-production of knowledge and learning for behavioral and institutional change”. It involves:

– sensitising communities on how climatic and non-climatic drivers are affecting the water cycle and locally available water resources

– facilitating communities to evaluate their available water stocks and plan water use accordingly

– promoting water efficient technologies

– evolving community mandated practices for water management

The WSI consists of the following components:

1. A team of “Water Stewards”, who promote and ensure effective management of local water sources.

2. “Water Volunteers” – local youth trained as para-technologists for water management. They motivate the “Water Stewards” as well as farmers and help prepare and implement Water Stewardship Plans at the village and farm level.

3. Water Stewardship Plans prepared by undertaking Water Budgeting exercises. A customized Water Budgeting (WB) tool enables villagers to estimate water availability and plan cropping patterns and water-uses accordingly.

4. Villagers monitor daily rainfall through rain gauges and use the data to better manage their crops and estimate the next cropping season’s water availability.

5. Several Automatic Weather Stations (AWSs) have been installed in some of the villages to provide weather-based crop specific advisories to farmers to reduce crop losses and improve productivity.

6. Multi-stakeholder engagements involving villagers, service and technology providers, local and state level government officials and researchers are regularly organized to promote cross-learning, increased access to technology and resources, a shared understanding of problems and a consensus on solution pathways.

Objectives and beneficiaries

The Water Stewardship Initiative (WSI) - is being implemented in 106 villages across two Indian states, Maharashtra and Telangana both of which are largely semi-arid, regularly impacted by drought and heavily dependent on ground water for drinking and agricultural purposes. Extreme weather events, especially irregular rainfall, are exacerbating water availability for life, livelihoods and nature. The overall goal of the Water Stewardship Initiative (WSI) is to promote water conservation, water harvesting and responsible water-use that is socially equitable, environmentally sustainable and economically efficient.

It has three specific objectives:

1. Build skills and capacities of villagers to prepare water budgets, plan water-use, and adapt to frequent drought or drought like conditions.

2. Based on water budgets, motivate and facilitate villagers to prepare plans for harvesting additional rainwater and increase water productivity through adoption of water efficiency improving technologies and practices such as drips, sprinklers and appropriate crop and soil management practices.

3. To motivate villagers to formulate and implement effective water governance arrangements to ensure equitable access to and availability of drinking water throughout the year.

The major and direct beneficiaries of the project are approximately 200000 people (40 thousand families) living in 106 project villages who will be assured of drinking water resulting from water budgeting, water harvesting and water saving measures. Over 10,000 farmers are receiving crop-weather advisories in these villages. Around 1,200 “Water Stewards” from project villages participated in different stakeholder engagement workshops together with a good number of government officials. A total of 27 “Jal Sevaks” (water volunteers) have been trained and they are facilitating villagers to take appropriate measures in 106 villages.

Strong points of the practice

1. The project treats different target groups (water-users) as stakeholders rather than as passive beneficiaries where local people lead the effort, thus building local leadership.

2. It builds the skills and capacities of farmers, village leaders and local youth.

3. The Water Budgeting approach allows a balanced and integrated approach to water management.

4. The Initiative is in line with the Maharashtra Groundwater (Development and Management) Act, 2009, which is an important policy intervention to improve the overall level of groundwater management in the State of Maharashtra. The Water Stewardship Initiative provides an opportunity to pilot major components of the Act and identify strategies and practices that can bring about the behavioral and institutional changes envisaged in the Act.

5. Providing crop-specific advisories to farmers through mobile SMS service based on high resolution weather forecasting is an important activity of the initiative, which is enabling farmers to take preventative actions to reduce risks and crop losses.

6. It has a direct policy and institutional connect. The multi-Stakeholder Engagement Workshops not only facilitate cross learning and consensus building but also directly feed “ground realities” and practices that work into official decisions making channels. This aspect can contribute significantly to replication and upscaling of good practices.

Expected results and benefits for climate change adaptation and mitigation

Communities in 106 villages are effectively governing 51.15 billion liters of water annually. In more than 60 villages, people have offered voluntary labour to repair defunct water harvesting structures and construct new structures (61 sand bag dams across streams). Through these voluntary activities, 0.17 billion liters of additional water harvesting potential has been created, whereas through convergence of different government schemes and other private investment sources, 1.24 billion liters of additional water harvesting potential has been created.

Several farmers in this initiative have adopted practices of micro irrigation (drips and sprinklers), tested their soil quality, and use vermi-composting and organic manures. More than 10,000 farmers are receiving through mobile phone SMS crop-advisories, which include weather forecasting at the local level. These crop advisories are proving very useful to farmers.

Stakeholder engagement workshops are important fora where different aspects of climate change, their impacts and ways to adapt and address them get discussed. This helps the villagers to understand how climate change impacts them and helps prepare them to better address them.

All these various interventions across levels help build resilience, mitigate the impacts of climate variability and enhance adaptive capacities of local communities and related stakeholders.

Replicability potential of the practice

1. Water scarcity is a problem that is growing and spreading across India. The situation compels people to come together to address the problem. We have seen that many neighboring villages are coming together to address their water problems, having observed how farmers in the project villages are benefiting after changing their water-use and cropping practices.

2. The learnings and strategies evolved can serve as a blue print for operationalizing and implementing state policy Act across the state of Maharashtra, and also help inspire and inform similar efforts in other states.

3. Given that the WSI responds to a growing social, economic and ecological need, there is a strong probability that it will be widely adopted and replicated, albeit with modifications to suit local conditions.

[Editor's Note: All information published as submitted by the author(s). Minor edits may have been made to increase readability and understanding.]