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A watershed for Rwandan farming

Livestock drinking water collected in run-off storage check dam (ICRISAT)
Livestock drinking water collected in run-off storage check dam
ICRISAT

Drawing on experience from Asia, Rwanda is launching a watersheds-based approach to natural resource management and rural development. The approach, which has been developed by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-arid Tropics (ICRISAT), combines soil and water management with improved agricultural practices and diversified income-generating activities. It was first implemented, with funding from the Asian Development Bank, in pilot villages in India, China, Thailand and Vietnam. In Andhra Pradesh's Kothapally watershed, for example, farmers have introduced a new rotation of crops which better matches the soil profile and changing rainfall patterns, in order to minimise the impact of drought. A sequence of maize, pigeonpea and chickpea was found to make more efficient use of soil moisture. Adding micronutrients such as sulphur and boron to soils has increased crop yields by 28-70 per cent in four Indian states where the watersheds approach has been implemented.

In spreading the watershed approach to Africa, members of the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) have been invited to Rwanda to map-out potential sites for implementation. These will also serve as learning sites for the whole of East and Central Africa, under the Soil and Water Management Research Network (SWMNet). The invitation follows several visits to Asia by representatives of ASARECA (the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in East and Central Africa), which is currently preparing a Memorandum of Understanding for long term collaboration between member countries and the ICAR.

Asian experience

In Kothapally, other agricultural developments have included the introduction of broad-bed and furrow cultivation, and planting of Gliricidia on field bunds as a green manure crop. Members of a women's self-help group are earning around Rs500 (US$10) each per month from the sale of 'vermicompost', made by feeding a weed plant, Parthenium, to earthworms. In addition, the group are selling a neem and Gliricidia-based biopesticide, also made by earthworms, and are growing seedlings of Jatropha and Pongamia for sale to biodiesel plantations. Average incomes in Kothapally have risen: in 2001 average income was Rs37,240 (US$795) compared with Rs29,140 (US$622) in neighbouring, non-watershed villages.

In Thailand and Vietnam, watershed development has included construction and rehabilitation of farm ponds, introduction of legumes and horticultural crops into cropping systems and planting of vetiver grass on field bunds. Thai farmers in the Tad Fa and Wang Chai watersheds have adopted an innovative IPM technique, mixing molasses in water and storing the mixture in open bottles, thereby attracting and trapping adult moths before they lay their eggs. The method has virtually eliminated the use of chemical pesticides in vegetable crops. Annual farm income in the two watersheds is reported to have increased by 45 per cent.

Chinese farmers have harvested water in underground cisterns and surface tanks, added high value fruit and vegetables to their cropping and adopted Integrated Pest Management techniques, such as use of light traps and tobacco waste. Leujiagh village in Lecheba watershed uses plant and animal waste for biogas production, meeting its needs for sanitation and energy self-sufficiency and becoming a model biogas village for the country.

Spreading out

Small-scale vermi-composting (ICRISAT)
Small-scale vermi-composting
ICRISAT

In spreading the benefits of the watershed model to Africa, ICRISAT is focussing on adapting existing knowledge, rather than initiating new research. According to Dr Suhas Wani, the Institute's principal scientist on watersheds, the approach will begin by highlighting increased income opportunities for villagers. As these livelihood benefits become clear, so the practices of watershed development should spread more widely within the area.

In India, the success of the Kothapally example has led the Andhra Pradesh government to scale up the approach to 150 watersheds in the state, and watershed projects are also being undertaken in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu. The National Commission of Farmers has recommended that the approach be used to improve rural livelihoods in drought-prone districts throughout India. One key success of the integrated approach has been its potential to boost income and improve food security in both good years and bad. In the drought year of 2002, farmers in the Kothapally watershed achieved better harvests than those in neighbouring villages, preventing the need for migration. When rains are plentiful, the improved agricultural methods generate higher yields and increased income.

Date published: November 2006

 

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