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Holistic watershed development

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In dryland areas, water availability can have a cascading impact – on land degradation, crop productivity and the well-being of rural communities. CGIAR researchers at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) have developed an innovative landscape management approach that can address these issues, and secure sustainable food production. 

Watershed development – which takes into account conservation, restoration and sustainable use of resources within a watershed – is a time-tested approach in natural resource management. CGIAR researchers at ICRISAT have taken this approach a step further, by introducing a more holistic approach that is inclusive of both farm and non-farm activities in food production zones. 

The interventions have been shown to increase productivity of fodder and livestock, improve efficiency of crop processing, and boost market linkages, raising farmer incomes

Watersheds in drylands of the semi-arid tropics depend on decentralized rainwater harvesting (both in situ and ex situ), which helps curtail soil degradation, boosts the availability of soil moisture for better crop growth, and minimizes the risk of drought and climate variability, while also facilitating sustainable crop intensification.  

The approach introduced by ICRISAT promotes more efficient use of resources through the integration of soil and water conservation initiatives, diversification and identification of high-yielding crop varieties, and best management practices through capacity building and on-farm training. The interventions have been shown to increase productivity of fodder and livestock, improve efficiency of crop processing, and boost market linkages, raising farmer incomes. 

Since the project started in 1983, these benefits have been demonstrated in nearly 50 sites across Asia and Africa, in areas ranging from 500 to 5,000 hectares. 

In India, CGIAR research has supported holistic management of a watershed in Kothapally village, resulting in water being available all year round, due to a 5 to 8 times increased storage capacity. This has also allowed for better quality feed and water to become available to livestock, leading to increased milk outputs, and dairy product sales. Pigeonpea and improved hybrid seed maize production have both improved, and farmer incomes have increased from $940 to $2,708 per hectare.  

In the Parasai-Sindh watershed of India’s Bundelkhand region, renovation of traditional rainwater harvesting structures, along with agroforestry interventions, have turned large tracts of degraded land into productive farms. These interventions successfully enhanced groundwater availability, which increased crop intensification from 120% to 180%, and helped farmers accrue higher annual household incomes, up from $800 to $2,200 within four years.  

In Ethiopia, the Yewol watershed has helped halt soil erosion and increase irrigated land downstream. The additional water availability has also led to an increase in crop diversity, as well as farmers beginning to produce fruit, chickpeas and other crops for the first time. 

 

Header photo: A masonry check dam at the Kothapally watershed in Talangana State, India. Photo by ICRISAT.

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