The Connection Between Food and Water Security
By Rajasvini Bhansali, former Thousand Currents Executive Director
After a 4-hour journey from Jodhpur, Shashi Tyagi, Rahul Mishra, Abdul (all GRAVIS employees) and I arrive in Kolu Nimbyat village in Western Rajasthan’s rural desert area. It’s good to be back in my home state. I’ve spent most of the trip marveling at the effects of abundant rainfall this July and August. For the first time in almost 3 years in Rajasthan the monsoon has brought enough water. While I cannot describe Jodhpur’s landscape as “lush,” relative to past years there is green everywhere. Cows, buffalos, goats and even dogs that are usually skin and bones in drought-ridden Rajasthan now have some fat on their bones.
Sandstone mines abut the road in Kolu Nimbyat. Each mine has a long line of daily-wage workers mining, cutting and shaping stone with their bare hands. Village women walk in groups wearing bright orange, pink, red and yellow ghagras. But they are no longer carrying pitchers of water on their heads. After many years their homes now either have a taanka (underground water storage container) or are built close enough to a neighbor’s taanka. IDEX* supported taankas have been built, and horticultural gardens with drought tolerant crops have been planted by GRAVIS in this village since 2007.
GRAVIS works with the Village Development Committees (VDCs) in this area. With the guidance of the VDCs, GRAVIS works to support local households with food and water security.
Our first stop is at the home of Poonam Kanwar. Poonam planted her garden in 2007 with sesame, lemons, watermelons, cucumbers, moong (a nutritious Indian lentil), moth (another Indian lentil), cluster beans or guar, bor (desert fruit) and millet or bajra. She demonstrates her homegrown drip irrigation system made with earthen pots. Poonam also uses natural pesticides that she makes with cow dung and indigenous herbs. The garden is beautifully tended to and the whole family has seen their health improve since they started eating this nutrition rich diet from their garden.
The Government of India has many agricultural programs for desert areas. One of which is to provide families with 50 units of seedlings and plants. This can be counter-productive for many rural families who simply do not have access to sufficient water to take care of household needs. Let alone tend to animals, and manage a large food garden.
GRAVIS supports families with 4 main crops and no more than 16 seedlings. This is a more manageable amount. It allows families to experiment with growing drought tolerant and indigenous crops. As they adopt more sustainable farming methods they are able to yield more food for their families. They can also use conserved water to gradually increase the size of their gardens. It’s another indication of how holistic, integrated approaches to rural development recognize that water and food security are deeply connected.
Next I joined a meeting of the Ramdevji Self-Help Group (SHG). 14 women were meeting to go over the group’s finances. Not only has this multigenerational group saved over 30 Rupees ($0.65) each per month from their meager earnings, but they have also managed to support 2 women in the group to buy goats. The women have been able to increase their earnings from selling dairy products from the goats.
The women also save seeds. I am struck by the connection of ecology and economy in this group. They explain to me that financial self-sufficiency and food security go hand-in-hand. They can’t possibly save money to give to their daughters and pay for household goods, if they can’t save seeds, that which gives sustenance to their entire household. They delicately undo the lids of their earthen pots, sealed to keep out insects, and show me watermelon, sesame, moong and moth seeds. These were saved from the recent crop and will be planted next season. In the meantime, the president of the group proudly explains how the group has saved over 7000 Rupees ($150US) this past year from their own earnings. They plan to support more members to buy goats.
Right as the sun is setting, we arrive at the tail end of a Village Development Committee meeting in Hempura Village. The 11-member committee is comprised of 5 women and 6 men. I sit with the visionary chairman, dynamic vice-chairwoman and quieter secretary as they share their recent victories.
I am told how the 11-member committee protested the lack of electricity in their village even after pre-paying three months of bills for non-existent electricity. They also share with me how they joined forces with GRAVIS field workers to build water taankas for the most vulnerable in their communities.
Finally they introduce me to the poorest couple in the village. This is a disabled woman in her thirties who used to depend on neighbors to fetch water for her family having been struck by polio in her childhood. Her husband cannot look for daily-wage work since he has to care for her. She is unable to do much more than sit and cook or walk to the tiny shack’s outdoor seating area. One night, while trying to make the most of the rains, her husband went out to collect water and was bitten by a snake. He too is now disabled. The VDC has decided to support this couple in soliciting a pension from the government due to their disability and has plans to build them a water taanka.
The members of the VDC are not that much better off, but I am struck by the kindness, resilience and universal love that they exhibit to ensure that those who are even worse off, have a way to live with dignity.
*Thousand Currents changed its name from IDEX in 2016