Collective action can solve the most difficult of problems. The residents of Bilkhi and Tola Swayam villages in Mahoba district of Uttar Pradesh have learnt this with experience. Their story is now a shining example of solving the water worries for a community.

“We had to regularly migrate from the villages. Wherever there was water, we would stop and try to find some work to do. We used to rear animals too. If it would rain, we would return to our villages and try our hand at agriculture”, says one of the villagers.

With their precarious existence till about six years ago, partly in cities and sometimes in their villages, they would have 4-6 months of food. Beyond that they were staring at uncertainty. People would often have to travel to urban centres like Delhi and Mumbai. Occasionally, some would travel to work in the agricultural fields of Punjab.

When they would return to the villages they would often engage in a conversation only to find that if it rained, there was no way to store water to irrigate the fields beyond the monsoon. The water level in the wells was too low and using it for agriculture was hardly an option. Sometimes the top soil would be washed away because of the heavy rain.

The people of the village collectively decided that they should consider ways for water conservation and also options so that the top soil could be saved.

The village land was not flatbed and holding back water in a land that had a little slope was not easy. But if collective action could be taken to build farm bunds, the problem could be reversed. After carrying out detailed study with the help of Anandana, the villagers decided to take matter in their own hands.

Soon, work started to build farm ponds, check dams and gully plugs – all small water bodies that could meet the needs of the villagers. Once the structures were ready, they started storing the water that was good enough for the needs of the villages. With three check dams, the water worries of the people have been washed away.

Now the fields have enough crops for the villagers’ needs and have become a source for their livelihood. Groundnuts are growing in plenty and paddy fields now welcome those returning to the village. “How else could we have grown crops without the water being stored?” asks one of the villagers.

“Once the check dam was built, the water level in our village went up by three metres” beams another resident.

By 2011, six check dams, eight farm ponds and 35 gully plugs were made and farm bunds were prepared for 741 acres of the village. 166 acres of unusable land has now been converted into agricultural land. From 36 acres of irrigated land, the number has gone up to 172 acres. Villagers are now earning between INR 10,000 and INR 15,000 per acre of land that they own. The fortunes of the people have changed and reverse migration has started. There is a lot of work for the villagers to do.

It did not take long for the word to spread. Now there are some queries coming from nearby villages to learn from their success stories. Bilkhi and Tola Swayam are leading the way in water management for the local communities.

Learn more about the story of the people of these villages: