Innovation Doubles Production
The Birth of a New Concept: Community Water Bank
Policy and Finance are waking up to the need for repositioning Sustainable development goals in aftermath of COVID-19. Looking for local innovation, self sufficiency, to give life to targets and indicators of SDG6 .
Here goes one example of an working model. A real life situation which has high potential for worldwide diffusion to solve local problems.
An introduction of a new brand for sustainable community practice — use water when you need it.
How it works?
1. As a part of the community, you own the right to access water flow 'now'.
2. However, you may not need it 'now'. Water Bank can save your right and help exchange within the community.
3. Someone else with need for 'now' can buy the right or mutually trade the right with you for your future use through water bank service provider.
This community scale environmental enterprise model efficiently manages water use, avoiding exploitation or wasteful use of water in agriculture. The rules for owning rights are defined and allocated by the entrepreneur for a defined time period through deliberative community participation process.
This success story is from Purulia, a water deprived district of West Bengal in India. Ecologically in Purulia water is an invaluable natural capital owing to the rugged terrain and high natural run-off. Water demand has grown to secure food supply from agriculture but not the water supplies. Traditional institution of competitive water extraction from natural water stock and flow need to change as it is unsustainable with changing demand but it does not evolve automatically. No borrowed model can solve local need. There is a clear need for innovation using science and human ingenuity.
3,500 Farmers Benefit from Water Bank
Water Bank by the 'Environmental Service Enterprise' achieved water security for nearly 3500 farmers in 12 villages of Raghunathpur (II) Block through this right-based entrepreneurial water service provision and conservation philosophy. With the available resources in the first phase ten such water-banks using scientifically chosen sites are functioning.
Community, now can meet irrigation demand for dry-land farming, participatory crop cycle planning and water budgeting. Enterprising knowledge is being shared through repetitive interaction giving rise to alternative farming practices like vine-top farming, and integrated fisheries in water banks.
3,500 Farmers Build a Close Loop Eco-System
Agricultural productivity doubled in three years. Farmers can keep their special skill based economic activity growing locally. They do not need to migrate in off season. They can grow second crop through water banking. Responsible natural resource utilization could be ensured through participatory planning of crop cycles and community water budgeting. Technological innovation on low-water-no-chemical farming like SRI, Zero-Till, Organic Farming with Bio-fertilizers and solar-micro-irrigation contributed equally to the incremental production of Paddy, Wheat and Mustard. Moreover, Vine farming on the top of water banks and cage culture of fishes generated revenue, helped compensating the opportunity costs of water banker’s time and knowledge.
Multiple other businesses are helping the economy to thrive. Risk spreading has been done through micro-insurance coverage of farmers and local social capital is growing stronger through the formation of Water Bank Cooperatives facilitated by water bank managers.
No comprise with science! Life cycle analysis through water foot-print estimates followed state of the art methodology of FAO. The introduction of scientifically designed water bank environmental service model has led to on an average 43-47% reduction in waste in irrigation water use. Sharp decline in the gross irrigation need (SNgross) both in summer and winter cropping period is leading to savings in natural capital. Vine topping on the pond surface for shadowing 45-70% of area reduced the evaporation rate by 25% compared to bare ponds.
How much investment is needed?
1. Upfront investment of ~ INR 150,000/- per hectare can support almost 100 farmers
2. A scale of 2.5 to 3 hectare water bank is a sustainable model with ~ 300 farmers
3. Investor gets a net return on investment with a pay-back period of 1.8 years
4. Considering net income flow Internal rate of return worked out to 28%
5. Right based participatory natural resource conservation promote sustainable production, conserve ecosystem services, watersheds for dry-land farming becomes economically viable.
We can replicate this.
How can you get Involved:
An Inward Looking World in the Aftermath of COVOD-19?
When global solidarity fund allocation starts looking for projects, these proven success stories provide ready solution for diffusion. Politically India is promoting idea of localization of supply chain to get out of the pockets of national shame  and reach out to under-served population in post pandemic period. We see the water-bank as a perfect model for community scale operation with small enterprise profitably. Multiple benefits lead to a thriving local economy using locally skilled human capital with sustainable food security. This creates demand for bio-fertilizers, seeds, fish feed and solar-micro-irrigation systems, local ecotourism activities with value added services like camping, fish-angling, bird watching etc. Taken further, agro-industrial activities can emerge from locally grown plants/ forest flowers, medicinal plants and many more.
Dipayan Dey @ South Asian Forum for Environment