Rain water harvesting changes rural livelihoods

Forty-four-year-old Gorey Maya from Gangtokha village of Barshonggewog in Tsirang used to walk more than two kilometers from her house to a spring water source to fetch water for daily consumption every day.

However, she could carry only 20 liters which was insufficient for the whole household’s daily consumption.

But now she need not have to carry water any more.

With the introduction of rain water harvesting technique, the women of the gewog have not only got access to enough drinking water, they have extra to grow vegetables for commercial purpose.

Rain water harvesting technology is implemented using silpaulin sheet of 300gsm (gram per sq meter) to store and collect rain from rooftops so that it can be used during dry season for agriculture purpose. 

Various sizes are being used and as standard size, 4.6m length with 2.7m breadth and 1.2m depth   is particularly used in Tsirang.

For Barshonggewog, 8m*6m is the largest one which has a capacity to hold 25,000l of water.

Currently, 60 households use this technology. It was funded by European Union (EU) managed by International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) based in Katmandu, Nepal.

The ICIMOD-funded Himalica Project invested over US$555mn to enhance rural livelihood of the gewog. The farmers in the gewog harvest rainwater for irrigation and agriculture.

Gorey Maya, mother of three children, said theirs is the only household in the village with a concrete tank for storing water. 

With this water storage, now Gorey can use it for various purposes including agriculture, feeding cattle and sometimes for consumption purpose when there is no tap water.

She said that rainfall is becoming erratic and unpredictable, natural ponds are drying up and spring water too and farming is becoming difficult by the year.

“With this technique our life has become much easier. We can produce vegetables two times in a year,” said Gorey.

Standing beside her water tank, Gorey explains that the water is being stored in the tank from overflow of water tank which supplies to the village, located just above her house. She also mentioned that she never wastes tap water and whenever it is not in use stores it in the tank.

Now she is happy that she can earn more income by selling vegetables grown with the help of rain water. With the money she earned, she could buy a power tiller and rice and maize mill.

She said that her farming technique has also improved and she is concentrating on commercial farming.

Gorey Maya earns Nu 80,000 to Nu 90,000 annually whereas earlier she could only earn around Nu 10,000 to Nu 15, 000 annually from selling vegetables.

Her family is now even planning to construct a traditional Bhutanese house.

Similarly, DekiWangmo, 42, from Barshong Toed village said before there was scarcity of drinking water as well as irrigation water. “The rain water harvesting project has helped us a lot.”

Before she used to fetch water in a bucket and pour it on the vegetables. However, she now can directly water the vegetables from the tank, connecting a pipe from the tank and placing the water sprinkle in the middle of the field.

DekiWangmo has two rain water harvesting ponds since she cultivates vegetables on a large scale.

Vendors buy vegetable produce from their doorsteps and sell in Thimphu and Gelephu.

Indra Maya Mongar, another 42-year-old from Chuneykhag village said before there was no source of income for the family. They could only grow vegetables for personal consumption and they grew crops like maize and millet which is less water intensive.

But now they have shifted to commercial farming of vegetables and in a year she can also grow vegetables two to three times and sell it to the vendors who come to collect it at their place daily.

She said the stored water is used to feed cattle and water the vegetables when there is no rainfall.

“During the vegetable season, I sell a full bolero of produce every week,” she said.

Indra also mentioned that their living standard has improved drastically.

“Before women in the village were confined to the kitchens but now women have become financially and physically independent,” she said.

The Mangmi, Chandra BdrMongar said that now people have shifted to vegetable cultivation from maize.

He said after the rain water harvesting project was implemented, every household started cultivating vegetables on around 15 to 20 decimal land. “Living standard of the people has improved and the women especially have come forward to cultivate vegetables,” said the Mangmi.

The Dzongkhag Agriculture Officer (DAO) of Tsirang, Dorji Gyeltshen said the project has helped households save time to dedicate to other household chores and improved income with increased production of vegetables. “It has also helped rear livestock and the surroundings are clean.”

“Rainwater harvesting can also improve micro-climate and ecosystem, besides recharging soil water for use of stored water in the plastic pond,” he said.

The DAO also said that drying up of water sources cannot be directly pinpointed to climate change but looking at the climate pattern it is the main cause. According to him, erratic rainfall and prolonged drought have affected the recharge of ground water.

He added there is need to have a good research system, so that climate resilient varieties of crops and technologies can be grown.

The Gewog Agriculture Extension Supervisor, SonamTshering said the project has brought important changes in the life of farmers including economic development of rural livelihoods. “It comes with some challenges like breeding ponds and tanks becoming a breeding center for mosquitoes in the lower altitude.”

Barshong farmers mainly focus on high-value crops like beans, cabbage, onion, chilli, broccoli, cauliflower, tomato and pulses, apart from maize and paddy being staple food.

The gewog has allocated Nu 0.5mn for agriculture and livestock through government budget for financial year 2018-19. The funds will be used to supply quality seeds and seedlings and to train farmers.

The gewog was sensitized about the project in 2014 and it was implemented from mid-2015. The project will be closed this year.

The ICIMOD in collaboration with the Local Government in Tsirang conducted a rapid scenario assessment of water including availability, consumption patterns and demand, and water management practices in the five chiwogs of BarshongGewog in October 2015.

Barshong is located in the western part of Tsirang and has an area of 21.2 sq km and is one of the smallest of the 12 gewogs in Tsirang. The altitude ranges from 700 to 1,500m above sea level. Approximately 52.83% of the land area is under forest cover comprising mainly broad-leaf. The gewog has a total of 575.24 acres of dry land, 254.6 acres of wet land, 57.25 acres of orchards and 9.8 acres of cardamom. 

The gewog has five chiwogs namely Barshong Toed, BarshongMaed, Gangtokha, Chunnykhang and Toisang.

The gewog has 330 households with a total population of more than 2,400 people.

Dechen Dolkar from Tsirang

This article is a part of rural grant funded by JAB.