Solving Water Woes of Indian Farmers One Borewell at a Time

Devendrappa Basanthappa Basti, a 60-year-old farmer from Kamplikoppa village near Hubali, North Karnataka dug his first bore-well in 1998. Looking for water to irrigate his 30-acre farms, Devendrappa thought his irrigation woes would be over once he gets a functional bore-well.

Sadly, his first attempt was not successful and he did not find any water. He made a second attempt, which didn’t work out as well. 21 attempts later and drilling as far down as 500 feet, Devendrappa managed to get water in just two bore-wells. These worked for 10 years, but soon the water flow started decreasing and bore wells became dry.

He became distressed by the mere thought of not being able to water his crops. He had a big family of four daughters and a son to support. Just when he thought he didn’t have any other option but to dig yet another bore-well, he met Sikander Meeranayak, a Hubali-based entrepreneur who is solving the farmers’ water woes by recharging the dead bore-wells.

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Through his organisation, Sankalpa Rural Development Society (SRDS), Meeranayak has been assisting farmers to have an abundant supply of water to irrigate the crops.

Devendrappa is not the only farmer who has been relying upon bore-wells to irrigate the crops. North Karnataka, which is predominantly an agriculture economy, frequently faces water interruption due to bore-wells running dry.

Chitranjan, another farmer from Hubali, had dug a bore-well in 1988. He too was left with a non-functional bore-well, which was not being used for two decades. He met Meeranayak in 2010 and learned about the bore-well recharge.

After construction of a bore-well recharge structure, Chitranjan waited for the rainfall. With just one day of rain, the bore-well witnessed excess of water.

“I had never seen my bore-well with so much water. It was like a miracle,” said
Chitranjan.

The bore-well, which was dry for many years is now always filled with water and has solved Chitranjan’s farming issues.

“Initially I was skeptical about it since all my previous bore-wells failed. I didn’t expect it to work so well,” Chitranjan said.

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He has now planted Mango trees in his farms. Earlier, he was hardly able to irrigate one acre of land in one day. Now, he irrigates over two acres of land in a day. The water supply, which was inconsistent before is much better now. Water comes with full force from 3-inch pipe continuously for 6-8 hours a day.

The bore well has the capacity to supply water to at least seven to eight acres, Chitranjan has converted his 3.5 acres of barren land into the banana plantation.

There are hundreds of farmers like Chitranjan and Devendrappa, who have benefitted from this low-cost bore-well recharge technique.

North Karnataka is considered as one of the most arid areas of India, yet it hosts a large agricultural economy. A low rainfall has caused many existing bore-wells to dry and has resulted in a lower water table.

Excessive digging of new bore-wells and incessant use of existing ones has worsened the situation. Meeranayak’s NGO, SRDS has provided a much-needed relief to these farmers.

Brought up in Kotumachagi village in the Gadag district of Karnataka, Meeranayak faced scarcity of water since a very young age. This made him learn the value of every drop of water.Kotumachagi village in the Gadag district of Karnataka, Meeranayak faced scarcity of water since a very young age. This made him learn the value of every drop of water.

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“I have seen many droughts and challenges faced by the farmers. I connect to these issues,” Meeranayak said. When Gadag faced a three-year long drought, Meeranayak worked to build farm ponds and construct bore-wells. During this period, he realised how unaffordable it was for the farmers to build new bore-wells. This made him think about cheaper alternatives to help farmers.

SRDS’ method of bore-well recharge costs Rs. 20,000, which is far less when compared to constructing a new bore-well. Meeranayak takes about 10 days to construct a bore-well recharge system.

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Constructing a new bore-well costs somewhere around Rs 1,00,000 to Rs 1,50,000. Many farmers cannot afford to incur this huge expenditure and end up bearing heavy losses and crop damage. Some even quit farming and migrate to the cities.

A graduate in social work, Meeranayak previously worked with various NGOs promoting sustainable practices for water conservation. This experience came in handy when he was working on his unique solution of bore-well recharge.

In 2008, SRDS was born and since then, Meeranayak and his team have recharged over 870 bore-wells in many parts of India, including Hubali, Dharwad, Gadag, Haveri, Bangalore, Amravati, a few villages of Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh among others.

Meeranayak’s main aim is to lower the cost of existing irrigation technology using innovations tailored to the needs and conditions of local farmers.

How does it work?

  • A 10×10 feet percolation pit is dug around the bore well – and an adjoining catchment area (pond) is excavated (this pond does not need to take up a large area)
  • Stone pitching is done around the walls of the percolation pit.
  • A 3-inch layer of sand is made at the bottom of the pit.
  • Holes or slits are made in the bore well casing pipe and we then cover it with mesh – to ensure nothing but water goes into the bore well.
  • Cement rings are placed around the bore well pipe and that area is left open. The cement rings are concreted together.
  • The remaining area of the pit outside the cement rings is filled with sand, stone and gravel.
  • Rain water from the catchment area (pond) gets transferred to the percolation pit. This then seeps in through the sand and gravel outside of the Cement rings.
  • This water filters up through the sand in the base of the cement rings and fills the area around the pipe casing. And then enters into the bore well through the protective mesh and the holes, thereby recharging the underlying aquifer with clean, filtered rainwater.

The impact

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Bore-wells recharged using Meeranayak’s technique have resulted into increased water-level in the bore-wells. Even completely dried bore-wells have also been revived by proper management and utilization of rain water.

The bore-well recharge has increased annual profit of these humble farmers. Devendrappa harvests from 100 percent of his land. His annual profit goes up to Rs. 8 lakhs. He has left behind his debt-ridden days and now encourages other farmers to opt for bore-well recharge instead of constructing a new one.

Once recharged, a bore-well never goes dry. Year after year, underground water-tables and aquifers are replenished thus keeping your bore-well up and running. Farmers’ can now grow three to four different varieties of crops throughout the year and can have a steady income since the bore-well never runs out of the water.

“Reserving of naturally filtered rainwater into the groundwater tables also results in a decrease in the proportion of impurities in the water. The bore-well’s water, thus loses its hardness with time and toxic minerals such as fluoride are diminished,” Meeranayak explained.

Rajashekhar, another farmer from Hubali, shares his success story. Ever since he has constructed a bore-well recharge system, he has a regular supply of water to irrigate his crops. He has been able to grow sugarcane, which is a water intensive crop. Since farmers now have a dependable source of water, they do not hesitate in experimenting with new crops. Rajashekhar began planting Mulberry on his 6-acre farm in 2014 and managed to earn about Rs. 50,000 per month.

The challenge

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Sikander Meeranayak started SRDS in 2008.

In spite of nearly 100 percent success rate, farmers are hesitant to opt for this new method. “Farmers are often reluctant to try something new. Convincing them is the biggest challenges,” Meeranayak said.

Often farmers want the bore-well recharges to be done free of cost or at a discounted rate. Also, the benefit of the bore-well recharge is visible only after a rainfall. Those expecting immediate results do not want to try this.

Meeranayak hopes government provides some kind of funding or support to the farmers to get the bore-well recharge done.

Keeping small scale farmers in mind, Meeranayak has also come up with a low-cost version of his innovation. The new version just costs Rs 15,000 and is less labour intensive and can be constructed in just two days

Meeranayak has been working with various organisations like Deshpande Foundation, Save Indian Farmers, etc. to reach out to more farmers.

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A few awards and recognitions have helped Meeranayak to develop trust among farmers. He aims to reach out to many more farmers in future so that their water woes can be resolved at a low cost.

Meeranayak has designed a number of systems to help both the urban and rural population realize the benefits of rainwater harvesting.

Meeranayak wants to expand his work in more areas of the country. You can contact him and support farmers in the drought prone areas. To know more about his work, check out his website.

Photos: SRDS

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