Second Pune-based NGO in recent months to bag major UN award

Pune: City-based Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR) has been awarded the prestigious United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) ‘Land for Life Award’ for its work in combating land degradation in some of the country’s most arid parts. The recognition comes for WOTR’s programmes on sustained land management across seven states including Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.

“The Union Government has set an ambitious target of doubling farm income by 2022, but this will be impossible to achieve without combating land degradation. Desertification afflicts 57% land in India. Hence, our [WOTR’s] emphasis has been to teach farmers to catch rainwater across landscapes, recharge groundwater aquifers and improve soil health,” said Crispin Lobo, Managing Trustee, WOTR, who received the prize last week in China.

Founded in 1993, WOTR grew as an offshoot of the yeoman Indo-German Watershed Development Project (IGWDP) begun in 1989 by the Swiss-born Fr. Hermann Bacher — a pioneer of the Indian watershed movement.

Till date, the WOTR has contributed to restoring 8,913 sq. km. of degraded land and directly and indirectly benefiting more than 1.35 million people. in the country’s the agrarian heartland.

In Maharashtra, the outfit’s transformation of Darewadi village in Ahmednagar district from a barren area completely dependent on water tankers to a tanker-free rejuvenated village via watershed activities is especially noteworthy.

“We are attempting to replicate the Darewadi model on a larger scale in the parched and drought-prone Marathwada region as well,” Arjuna Srinidhi, senior researcher, WOTR, told The Hindu.

Mr. Srinidhi said that a team of researchers were at present working in Jalna and other areas in the region to assist farmers make the right water-conservation decisions, like choosing easily rechargeable dug wells over widely-spread farmponds with borewell water as their sources.

In tandem with the usual technical treatments, like check dams, gully plugs, contour trenches to arrest the rainwater runoff in these areas, the outfit has embarked on a bio-regeneration program like grass-seeding to transform the once-degraded landscape.

“We often discover a lack of knowledge among farmers in many cases in Marathwada, which has resulted in rampant borewelling and consequent plummeting of groundwater levels in the region. So, we have tried to disseminate beneficial watershed management practices through gram sabhas and gram panchayats,” Mr. Srinidhi said.

Besides their sustainable land management approach, the outfit’s water-budgeting and micro-irrigation practices have helped reduce rural-urban migration in districts like Ahmednagar and Aurangabad.

“WOTR’s ‘Vasundhara’ project was initiated in our village in 2008 through a swirl of mobilisation meetings and training programs. Following its implementation, I had regular water for my three-acre farmland. Besides I was being paid regular wages for my participation in constructing watershed treatment structures in the village,” says Raghu Raisingh Chavan, a small farmer from Kachner village in Aurangabad.

For Sheila Hari Chavan of the same village, who got trained as a tailor under the program, the project helped enhance her livelihood by enabling her to secure gainful employment. She now runs a tailoring shop from home.

WOTR is the second Pune-based non-governmental organization (NGO) in recent months to bag a major UN award. In , the Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP) bagged the prestigious ‘Equator Prize’ by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for coming up with an ecologically sustainable agriculture model to combat the ravages of drought.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/states/wotr-bags-un-award-for-work-on-land-degradation/article19436500.ece