Self-help groups in watershed management
MYRADA s involvement with watershed management began in Gulbarga 10 years ago. The PIDOW-MYRADA project was a partnership between Government, the Swiss Development Cooperation and MYRADA. Its objective was to enable the farmers involved to emerge as a fourth partner and progressively control watershed resources. MYRADA s role was to ensure that the process of planning and implementation would help people acquire the skills, confidence and organisational expertise to control and manage the resources within their watershed. This should increase productivity and sustainably and make it possible for vulnerable groups to derive benefits from these investments. Initiatives taken in Gulbarga spread rapidly to other MYRADA watershed projects. Recently MYRADA s experiences have been evaluated. This article discusses what has been learned about the function and role of Self-help Credit Management Groups (SHGs) as basic social groupings responsible for watershed management
LEISA Magazine • 14 nº 1 • July 1998
Self-help groups in watershed management
MYRADA’s involvement with watershed management began in Gulbarga 10 years ago. The PIDOW-MYRADA project was a partnership between Government, the Swiss Development Cooperation and MYRADA. Its objective was to enable the farmers involved to emerge as a fourth partner and progressively control watershed resources. MYRADA’s role was to ensure that the process of planning and implementation would help people acquire the skills, confidence and organisational expertise to control and manage the resources within their watershed. This should increase productivity and sustainably and make it possible for vulnerable groups to derive benefits from these investments. Initiatives taken in Gulbarga spread rapidly to other MYRADA watershed projects. Recently MYRADA’s experiences have been evaluated. This article discusses what has been learned about the function and role of Self-help Credit Management Groups (SHGs) as basic social groupings responsible for watershed management.
Photo: Aloysius P. Fernandez
Self-Help Credit Management GroupsMYRADA, therefore, focused activities on small, homogeneous watershed management groups that had started as Self-help Credit Management Groups (SHGs). MYRADA used credit management as an entry point and training tool. Credit is an appropriate training tool because it is familiar and meets a felt need. Being able to successfully managing their common fund gives a group the confidence that they can achieve their objectives provided they are willing to observe certain rules and create a culture that motivates people to support each other. Self–help Credit Management Group members acquire considerable management experience while conducting the affairs of their organisation. They learn to set priorities, to take decisions and risks, to draw up rules of behaviour, to resolve conflicts and to apply sanctions effectively for non-compliance. They acquire the skills required to institutionalise and administrate cooperation. These skills are necessary in managing watershed resources. They cannot be easily acquired during a watershed programme since the process of watershed development is still heavily influenced by intervenors who insists on technical specifications and guidelines. This transfer of technology approach within a delivery system leaves little room for the development of local people’s institutions.
Apex SocietiesIn several micro-watersheds throughout the Gulbarga project more than one homogeneous group emerged. There were also large farmers who did not join any of these groups but wanted to be represented when watershed activities were discussed. To cope with this situation Apex Societies or Watershed Management Committees were formed by representatives from the small homogeneous groups, large farmers, and representatives of farmers with land in the watershed who did not live in it. Apex Societies coordinated the implementation of the treatment plan and dealt with outside intervenors. They supervised the work done on farmers fields and later assessed it before sanctioning payments. In some cases the funds for treatment works were given to the Apex Societies, in others funds passed directly to individual farmers after the Apex Society confirmed that work had been satisfactorily completed. Apex Societies also played a key role in resolving disputes that arose during implementation.
Maintenance securedThe issue of maintaining treatment measures is crucial for sustainable watershed management. People suspected that there were many areas where outside contractors had been the major beneficiaries. This weakened their commitment to maintaining these measures. It was possible to solve this problem by establishing a transparent procedure which involved SHG members and the Apex Societies in assessing work, handling cash and maintaining records.
Initially the intervenors expected the Apex Societies to play a central role in maintaining treatment measures. In practice the small homogeneous SHGs have emerged as the most appropriate institutions to maintain the resources that benefit group members. It was, for example, the SHGs who entered into agreements with other farmers to regenerate and maintain fallow lands. In Gulbarga over 35 such agreements have been negotiated. This strategy has transformed previously neglected land into regenerated parks, increased biomass production and been effective in managing soil erosion and water run-off.
The common fundFarmers need to have a stake in watershed investment. It is the SHG that has the financial resources - the common fund - from which an individual farmer can borrow to undertake improvement and maintenance work after the project ends. Commercial Banks do not advance credit for such measures. The Land Development Banks, where they exist and have resources, do have provision but conservation measures on dryland are not considered viable investments. Further, the official specifications for treatment measures in terms of size, structure and location usually conflict with farmers requirements and with what they can manage. This makes the approval of such credits difficult and raises transaction costs. One of the main reasons why farmers do not invest in maintenance work is that most credit involves high transaction costs. Farmers need credit because, to construct the treatment measures, they either have to give up alternative wage employment to do it themselves or they have to hire bullocks, carts and labour.
Photo: Aloysius P. Fernandez
Reasons for disinterestThere are of course other reasons why farmers have not come forward to take up conservation measures. The perception that the increased productivity will not be large enough to warrant investment is a major reason. There is evidence that farmers, even on drylands, are willing to borrow up to 20% of costs from SHGs to construct treatment measures if good soils and better moisture retention capacity assures them of a crop. After investing in such structures, however, there have been instances where farmers have not cooperated in efforts to prevent erosion from higher slopes because they anticipated a lower harvest of silt lower down. Their strategy was to concentrate soil rather than to conserve it.
There are other factors that dissuade investment. The pull of the city, the increasing demand for cash and the rising price of land which is viewed as a scarce resource even without treatment measures, the shift to irrigation and the problems of unstable markets which favour those with staying power.
Initiatives by SHGsThe role played by SHGs so far depend on the resource to be maintained. If it is a common resource like revenue, waste land, and private fallows which were protected and from which all members derived regular benefits, the SHGs have taken the initiative to organise, develop, manage and maintain it. The cost of efforts to acquire this common resource have been shared by the SHG and the intervenors. The SHG usually contacts the owner of the private fallow land and negotiates an agreement. The NGO played an important role in lobbying with the Government for the release of revenue lands. The activities involved in developing this resource have been funded by the intervenors with the SHG organising the work and contributing labour at generally lower rates. Management of this resource are taken on by the SHG where members are confident that they have access to and control of the produce and adequate protection from cattle. It must be noted, however, that the initiative to manage a common resource where titles and user rights are not clear is normally not taken up by the SHG. As far as the management of revenue lands is concerned it is only after some years, when they have gained confidence, that the SHGs take the initiative. Access to these lands has been open but in some cases traditional grazing rights have been exercised. The potential for conflict in these areas is high.
If the measure is a substantial one such as a weir being constructed with cement, the SHGs do not agree to maintain them. Their position is that they do not have the resources and skills required to maintain such structures. MYRADA staff, however, believe that if people place a cash value on water collection in weirs which is used by domestic animals for drinking and wallowing and for washing clothes, adequate revenue can be mobilised to pay for maintenance. In practice, however, as water for animals and domestic purposes are considered basic needs, it is difficult to levy a charge. Sub-soil water is seen as a common resource. It is, therefore, difficult to charge farmers whose wells have been recharged significantly due to water conservation measures.
A broader approach neededMYRADA’s interventions have motivated people to cooperate and to build institutions which they find relevant to their needs and which they can manage. As farmers become convinced that watershed management is paying there is a growing hope that these institutions will be sustainable. But it is not only productivity and institutions that need to be sustained, equity should also be ensured. This has proved more difficult to achieve, especially in areas where resources are scarce. The landless and marginal farmers tend to be marginalised in watershed programmes. During the implementation period they get work and income, but this has to be sustained. In some watersheds this has been achieved by giving the landless a stake in the increased biomass, by increasing their capacity to earn through training and by helping them to start small businesses and cottage industries. They also have become members of the credit groups and have access to credit. For this, however, watershed management programmes need to have a broader approach than they do at the moment.
Aloysius P. Fernandez, MYRADA, No. 2, Service Road, Domlur Layout, Bangalore 560 071, India.
- Fernandez AP. 1997. The MYRADA experience: towards a sustainable impact analysis in participatory micro-watershed management. MYRADA, unpublished.
- Fernandez AP. 1994. The MYRADA experience: the interventions of a voluntary agency in the emergence and growth of people’s institutions for sustained and equitable management of microwatersheds. MYRADA, Bangalore.