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Eaux, pauvreté et crises sociales

Habib Ayeb
Thierry Ruf

Encarts spéciaux. Témoignages des ONG

Timbaktu Collective (NGO): Natural Resource Management

C. K. Ganguly

Texte intégral

1The Timbaktu Collective is a voluntary organisation that was initiated in 1990, to work for sustainable development in the drought-prone Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh, India.

2As of March 2006, the Collective had a team of 63 members and worked in about 112 villages of Chennekothapalli, Roddam and Ramagiri mandals of Anantapur district, serving about 33,000 marginalised people.

3The Collective focuses on the landless, small and marginal farmers with special emphasis on women, children, youth and Dalits. These are the people who are most affected by situations like chronic drought, unproductive land, unemployment and poor infrastructural facilities. With local self-governance being the underlying theme of our work, we have formed numerous Community Based Organisations (CBOs) of the rural poor, to work in the areas of:

  • Regeneration of forests in common lands (Revenue waste lands and Reserve Forests)
  • Revitalisation of agricultural lands belonging to small and marginal farmers
  • Rejuvenation of traditional water-harvesting structures (tanks, kuntas, wells & other water bodies)
  • Developing a relevant banking system with rural women from marginalized families
  • Relevant education for the rural deprived children
  • Education and organisation of youth and Dalits
  • Awareness building on local self governance (panchayats)
  • Awareness building and empowerment of disabled people
  • Networking with other voluntary, civil society, community based and mass organisations at district, state and national levels.

4All humankind is dependent on nature for all of its needs and wants. This dependence is even more evident in primarily agrarian societies like in rural India. This dependence on nature manifests itself in three immediate forms namely, land, water and forests.


5As agriculture is the main form of livelihood in Anantapur district, the kind of agriculture being practiced plays a crucial role in the sustainability of these livelihoods. The kind of cropping patterns, the use of external inputs and the maintenance of soil fertility are of utmost importance. In the past few years, there has been a dangerous move towards mono-cropping of cash crops.

6Anantapur district is the largest groundnut-growing district in the country and probably all of South Asia. Being the major cash crop, it covers over 90% of the cropped area. The performance of this crop decides the economy of the district. This move has been at the expense of a traditional system of basic food needs based cropping. This has played havoc with the food security of most families and has contributed to many of the other problems plaguing the society here.

7While the rainfall pattern has changed over the years, the "green revolution" has resulted in a spurt in the use of environmentally damaging pesticides and fertilisers. Traditional means of maintaining the fertility of the land have been slowly forgotten.


8Anantapur district is the second most drought-prone district in the country. The rainfall pattern has changed over the years. The early May and June showers are almost nonexistent or erratic as have the late rains of November. This situation requires judicious water conservation techniques to utilise every drop of water.

9This area had a glorious tradition of rainwater harvesting – tanks and kuntas – and irrigation systems. The past 60 to 70 years have seen this great traditional system waste away due to a lack of ownership, destruction of the forests, wrong agricultural practices and a growing dependence on the government as the provider of all facilities.

10Water use is also governed by the kind of crops that are grown. The shift to high water usage crops has also seen the receding of ground water levels all over the district.


11This district was once part of one of the most powerful and rich kingdoms of south India – the Vijayanagara Kingdom. In the late 19th century the forests were described as one of the finest summer deciduous forests in the south. Its fruits were known even in the courts of Delhi.

12For over 700 years, various armies fought to keep control of this fertile land. Sadly, very little of these forests remain today. Extensive deforestation coupled with the wresting of control over forest resources by the government has resulted in the loss of interest by the people to maintain their forests.

Responses of the Collective

13The Collective was founded with the idea of reviving the natural glory of the area and of inculcating a sense of ownership of these resources amongst its people. Its activities hence, try to grapple with all these problems and to find enduring solutions.


14The scanty rainfall that is characteristic of this area has set the agenda for the Collective's work involving the restoration or creation of new rainwater-harvesting structures and other water bodies, development and management of watersheds to increase in-situ conservation of water and moisture. These water bodies are both at the community level and at the level of individual farm lands.

15Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh in South India comes under a massive rain shadow. It is supposed to receive an average of 500 millimetres of rain annually. In the past five years, rainfall has dipped to 180 mm in the mandals that the Collective works in.

16In such a situation, it is critically important to harvest every drop of rainfall that is received. Rainwater harvesting not only ensures that the rainfall is available for use at a later time, but also has other benefits such as the arresting of soil loss, improvement in the water table and the increase in plant life due to increased moisture availability in the soil. When rainwater-harvesting work is carried out over a widespread geographic area, the land needs to be surveyed for topological conditions that will affect the flow of water and appropriate structures created in appropriate locations such that the whole area is benefited. Such a geographical spread is known as a watershed.

Restoration of traditional rainwater-harvesting structures

17Anantapur district is blessed with some of the finest rainwater-harvesting structures. Between 900 and 1500 AD the rulers built exceptional structures that harvested almost all the rain that fell in the area. Unfortunately the last 70 to 80 years have seen complete degradation of these structures especially because the forests in the catchment areas were destroyed and wrong agricultural practices took root in the foreshore regions of these structures (tanks). Today most of the 300 large tanks (between 100 and 1,000 acres in spread) and over 2,000 smaller tanks have either gotten silted up and storage capacity reduced drastically or the bunds have collapsed making the tanks useless. Irrigated agriculture has been suffering and the farmers are unable to take more than one crop in a normal year.

18Since the protection and ecological restoration of the hills or the catchment area of these tanks do not immediately yield immediate economic advantages to the villagers it is often difficult to convince them of the necessity of such work, especially because they have been cut off from the resources of this land.

Tank Desiltation

19The Collective therefore decided to simultaneously initiate work that gave immediate results and improved the situation of the farmers and thereby motivating them for the "long-term" investment of ecorestoration. One such work was tank desiltation and silt application to dry lands in the catchment area from where the silt came in the first place.

20Tank desiltation is one of the major components implemented by the CBOs in the project area. Over the years hundreds of acres have been applied with this silt. All the villages have benefited tremendously because of the tank desiltation programme. People's contribution to this programme has been to the tune of 35 to 40%.

21The effect of tanks desiltation is predominant in Mushtikovela, Kogira and Kambaalapalli villages. An average yield increase of 5 to 10 bags per acre has been recorded.

22The increased storage in tanks has recharged 10 wells in Kogira and over 20 wells in Mushtikovela. Apart from recharging, presently the tanks are the main source of drinking water for animals during summer. As a secondary benefit, the water availability during summer has benefited many who have taken up brick making under the "Chief Ministers of Youth Development Programme".

23A 100 meters bund of an old Kunta (small rainwater-harvesting structure) was reconstructed near Mushtikovela. This bund was built, many years ago, across the Brahmdevani vanka, one of the four major feeder channels to Mushtikovela tank to form a small Kunta.

24The strengthening of the Kunta bund has increased the percolation - increasing water in the open wells down stream. This bund was designed and built by the members of the VSC. Every family from the village participated by contributing a certain amount as labour or by contributing bullock carts or stones.

Government initiated watershed programs

25In recognition of the Collective's capabilities in the sphere of eco restoration and community mobilisation, during 2001-2002, the district administration invited the Collective to become a Project Implementation Agency (PIA) and take up 14 watersheds spread over 14 villages and 3 mandals. The idea is to help the villagers to develop and manage their watersheds. Each of these watersheds has a geographical spread of over 500 hectares each. The primary focus has been revitalising small water bodies and towards the promotion of horticultural activities.

26Initially, a primary survey was conducted. After this, Gram sabhas were held, to help plan the programme in an inclusive and open manner. In February and March 2002, PRAs were conducted to identify existing water bodies such as tanks, springs, water holes and checkdams.

27A few plans were also made for constructing new water bodies. While making the social and resource maps during the PRAs, it was found that each watershed village had as many as 10 to 30 water bodies that needed renovation. Simultaneously, user groups were formed in every watershed village to take the responsibility of implementing the programme.

28Totally 264 water bodies were initiated. 36 have been completed and 50% work has been completed in another 228 water bodies through 210 user groups. Awareness building on the importance and future maintenance of these water bodies has been an ongoing effort. Wage rates were discussed and payments were made during the user group meetings.

29In the context of heavy investments for groundnut and untimely and meager rains dry land horticulture is a better alternative. Under the watershed programme 173 farmers initiated horticulture in 458 acres. 28,721 pits were dug for this purpose.

Drought-related 'Food for Work' programs

30The years since 2001 have seen unprecedented drought in the region, and almost 60% groundnut crop failure. This has resulted in large-scale migration for employment.

31To counter this, the Andhra Pradesh government initiated a "Food for Work" programme to generate employment in the villages. The then district Collector invited VANA (a network of NGOs, of which the Collective is a member) to take up some works.

32The Collective as part of VANA implemented the FFW programme in Chennekothapalli, Ramagiri, and Roddam mandals between October 2001 and September 2002. 47 works were taken up in 23 villages. 4,059 quintals of rice were expended costing Rs. 22,93,335. Some highlights of this work are:

  • 24,161 work days generated;
  • 37,728 water-harvesting trenches;
  • 13,440 pits for planting trees;
  • land development work in 136 acres;
  • renovation of 7 water bodies;
  • land leveling, trenching etc. for tamarind orchard;
  • link roads and new roads.

33Water-harvesting trenches were dug in the revenue wastelands belonging to Kogira, Kambalapalli and Shyapuram villages of Roddam Mandal and Mushtikovela, Subbarayunipalli and Guvvalagovindampalli villages of Chennakothapalli mandal. This was taken up in the Kalpavalli area. The water-harvesting trenches help reducing soil and water runoff. They also collect small pools of rainwater, which in turn helps growth of vegetation around the trenches.

34Trenching done on the boundaries of the tamarind orchards promoted by the thrift groups and VSCs helped controlling grazing. The rainwater collected in the trenches also helped faster growth of the tamarind trees that had been planted.

35A 10 km. road was laid linking Mustikovela and Shyapuram. This work helped the villages around Mustikovela to become accessible to Roddam, Shyapuram, Kogira, Kambalapalli and nearby villages as the motorable distance got reduced by 40 km. Different (CBOs) were involved from the planning stage onwards and were involved in continuous monitoring of the programme.


36Work with the land has concentrated on reviving the crop biodiversity of the area and hence ensuring food security to the people dependent on agriculture. The Collective is also working on spreading the use of sustainable agricultural practices such as organic agriculture, land fertility maintenance and improvement, etc

Promoting alternative ways of agriculture

37The Timbaktu Collective has been striving to help people to rejuvenate, regenerate and revitalise their natural resources and traditional genetic base. The idea is to help them regain control in order to conserve the agro biodiversity in Anantapur district, so that they can combat drought and continue to live a sustainable agricultural lifestyle.

The objectives are

  • To help rejuvenate and regenerate natural resources.
  • To help revitalise and conserve the traditional genetic base of this area especially traditional seeds.
  • To promote traditional food crops.
  • To build awareness about traditional crop conservation and promotion.
  • To promote ecologically friendly methods of fertilisation, pest control and improve land productivity.
  • To promote the use of low water consumption crops and to promote low water consumption methods of growing crops for farmers who continue to use high water consumption crops.


38Since forests play a vital role in the conservation of moisture while providing the people with a significant source of livelihood, the Collective has been working extensively with the people of the area to regenerate some of these glorious forests. Its work initially focused on the Timbaktu area but now covers over 8,000 acres in two mandals.

39The Timbaktu Collective has been involved in land and ecology-related activities with the village communities with a view to reestablish the people's relationship with nature and more importantly to take responsibility of and control over what are their natural resources. This is absolutely vital here if any drought proofing has to be done.

40After the experiments in Timbaktu and the hills that surround it, the Collective began to promote the concept of ecorestoration through natural regeneration in a village called Mushtikovela in 1992. It took over a year to convince people to begin protecting about 125 acres of revenue waste lands in the hills surrounding the village.

41The impact was felt almost immediately. Over the next seven years 7 more villages had joined in and about 8,000 contiguous acres of revenue wastelands were being protected and regenerated into a forest.

42The area under natural regeneration though contiguous, may be divided into two clear watersheds with a few micro-watersheds in between. Starting at Mushtikovela, there is a ridge running North East to South ending at Kogira. These hills form the catchment for the two major rainwater-harvesting tanks that had been constructed over 500 years ago. The water from the catchment flows down Eastwards into the Mushtikovela tank and Westwards into the Kogira tank. Based on the varying topography on East and West the benefit of flow into Mushtikovela is more than into Kogira. In between there are about 5 or 6 micro-watersheds and each have some small tank or kunta situated strategically.

The natural regeneration work consists mainly of 9 activities

  1. Protection from fires
  2. Protection from overgrazing
  3. Protection from tree cutting
  4. Construction of small rock filled dams (RFD) to prevent soil erosion and increase water recharge
  5. Tree seed dibbling
  6. Grass seed broadcasting
  7. Planting of trees where possible
  8. Monitoring what fauna has returned
  9. Monitoring how much grass is cut and removed from the area
  10. Monitoring how many sheep, goats and cows come for grazing

A shepherd in Anantapur

Kothagadikunta Tank

Kalpavalli forests

Tank at Kothagudikunta

Experimenting with manure

Table des illustrations

Légende A shepherd in Anantapur
Fichier image/jpeg, 20k
Légende Women farmers
Fichier image/jpeg, 17k
Légende Water body
Fichier image/jpeg, 27k
Légende Kothagadikunta Tank
Fichier image/jpeg, 21k
Légende Kalpavalli forests
Fichier image/jpeg, 24k
Légende Tank at Kothagudikunta
Fichier image/jpeg, 23k
Légende Experimenting with manure
Fichier image/jpeg, 33k


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