When the water comes

In India, MCC water projects nourish land and enhance livelihoods and health in more than a dozen rural communities

Water might flow year-round through a stream in the hills above the village of Sinisingi in eastern India. But for residents like Maheshwar Pujari, who was born in the village 69 years ago, retrieving the water long meant an upward trek of at least an hour through difficult terrain.

All of that changed in 2013, when water began pouring from a pipe not far from Pujari’s home.

“That first day we were so happy,” says Pujari. “We had a shower, we washed our clothes. Then we started developing our land.”

Irrigation projects help Maheshwar Pujari, shown in his rice field, and other farmers expand their harvests.

Through a diversion-based irrigation system, a small portion of the water is diverted from a stream into overland pipes, then gravity propels it down to the village below. The water is used for irrigation, bathing and washing dishes and laundry.

MCC supports the building of these systems in Odisha state in eastern India through its partner Institute of Social Action and Research Activities (ISARA).

Thirty-four-year-old Basudeba Bada Raita and his family used to walk 2 kilometres a day to get water for their garden.

Irrigation provides a stronger start for new plants like this tomato seedling.

Their 1.4 acres of land had just one growing season — from May to October — and harvests were only millet and legumes. Unable to support his family from crops alone, Raita would migrate across India to find work.

That changed when, in 2015, a new diversion-based irrigation system brought water to Raita’s village of Munigadiha.

Today he has three major growing seasons a year, his land producing cabbage, cauliflower and other vegetables, as well as corn, millet, legumes and rice.

Now, his life, and his work, are in Munigadiha.

Thanks to a diversion based irrigation system built through an MCC-supported project, farmer Basudeba Bada Raita, shown with his daughter Lina, can earn enough from growing crops that he no longer has to leave his family to migrate to other parts of India for work.

“There is no need to leave the village now,” Raita says. “I am planning how to cultivate even better with the water. I am dreaming about how to use this land.”

Pabitra Paramanya, an MCC project officer in India, says Raita is a good example of one of the project’s goals — keeping younger people in their home communities. For many generations, people in this region lived by the forest and alongside rivers, growing millet, foraging for native plants and raising livestock. More erratic rainfall and the degradation of traditional lands due to deforestation and erosion have forced people to go to nearby cities to sell firewood or work as manual labourers.

Paramanya says younger men, especially those with less education, often turn to manual labour in quarries or factories where they are poorly paid and exposed to hazardous conditions.

With a new source of irrigation, they have alternatives.

“They say, ‘My father was a farmer, I have a passion for farming,’” Paramanya explains. “And they say, ‘With this water we can grow vegetables that we can eat and sell.’”

Twenty-six-year-old Kandha Sabar is doing just that. Since a new system brought water to his village of Patrabasa in 2015, he’s been growing everything from vegetables to bananas on his 7 acres of land. After supplying his household, he sells the rest.

Farmers Kandha Sabar and Dandapani Raita of Patrabasa village sell vegetables in the market. Residents have had access to irrigation throughout the year since 2015 when MCC partner ISARA installed an irrigation system in the hills above the village. 

“Now I am only growing an acre of millet and adding more vegetables,” he says. “We are getting a good rate at the market for vegetables and this is good income for us.” 

Sabar uses the money he earns from selling vegetables to pay off debts and hire labourers for his fields. Eventually it will pay for his son’s education and improvements to the family home.

From 2014 to 2017, diversion-based irrigation systems were installed in 14 villages. Systems are scheduled for installation in another three villages by the end of 2018. About 550 kilometres away in another region of Odisha state, reliable irrigation is also improving food security and livelihoods in rural communities.

MCC is supporting Disha (an Indian partner organization whose Hindi name means finding the right path or direction) in more than a dozen villages. The effort is funded through MCC’s account at Canadian Foodgrains Bank, with matching contributions from the Canadian government.

Work begins in each village with the construction of earthen berms, or raised banks, in the mountainous areas above villages. The berms collect runoff and channel the water downward, replenishing wells and ground water levels in and around the communities.

Before MCC partner Disha brought water and trainings on topics like composting and mushroom cultivation, Mariam Toppo and her family ate mostly rice and ground dry leaves cooked in water. Today, she has fruit trees and a thriving vegetable garden and grows mushrooms.

Mariam Toppo says that before there was a reliable source of irrigation for her garden in the village of Sandalki, her family’s diet was mostly rice and ground dry leaves cooked in water.

When Disha brought water to her village, along with training on composting, organic pesticides and mushroom cultivation, Toppo took part in everything.

Today her garden is lush with fruit trees, vegetables and flowers, and she began growing mushrooms.

“I am illiterate and cannot find work easily,” Toppo says. “So this is my way of earning income.”

She also joined a women’s selfhelp group that Disha helped organize. With money from the group’s loan program, she drilled a borehole and bought a small foot-operated pump to irrigate her garden. Her next goal is a motorized pump to irrigate more land.

Disha provided a male goat to each village, which families can use for breeding. As a result, Mathilda Burwa, a widow in Sandalki, now has more than a dozen goats.

“I sell some goats when they are ready and then I can buy vegetables and rice and seeds from the market,” she says. “Now I have three meals a day.”

Through a project of MCC partner Disha, Mathilda Burwa, a widow in Sandalki, Odisha state, now has more than a dozen goats that she raises and sells to buy necessities like vegetables, rice and seeds. 

By early 2016, earthen berms were built above 12 villages. The project will be extended to an additional 10 villages by the summer of 2019.

About 1,700 households will benefit from the two projects in Odisha state. Residents contribute by clearing land, laying irrigation pipe and building berms and water storage areas.

As villages begin to prosper, other benefits follow. Governments are providing electrical services and new roads into some areas, says Gordon Zook, who is from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and serves as MCC representative in India with his wife Carol Zook. 

“Now the markets for vegetables from these villages are opening up and we need to think about the best way to market them,” Gordon says.

He attributes the success of the projects to the partnership of MCC and organizations like ISARA or Disha with residents of each local community.

“But the biggest component is the community,” he says. “This type of food security is about using what’s available in each village. These communities work hard, and they adapt. That’s why these projects do well.”

This Christmas, choose from gifts like irrigation for crops, skills for young farmers or meals at school. Find these and more with MCC’s Christmas Giving— browse the gifts online!