Springs of hope flow in the farmlands of rural Odisha


By Chandrika Patnaik

24 April 2023

Farmlands in Ganjam’s Narayanprasad village which remained unproductive during dry months grows vegetables irrigated by spring water.

Nilesh during his fellowship days in Gram Vikas.

Photograph by Rabi Jani

“Rainfall is so erratic that we face crop losses every year. It’s forced the young men in our village to go out into other towns and cities looking for work. Almost 15 to 20 of them leave in search of work. Here in the village, we all depend on government ration, but it only lasts us for a portion of the month. We don’t have enough food,” 72-year-old Bhajman Jani shared with Nilesh, a SBI YFI Fellow with Gram Vikas, about the challenges of not having enough access to water.

Bhajman is one of the oldest farmers in Narayanprasad village in Odisha’s Ganjam district. With only 26 households, most residents here are small and marginal farmers relying on rain to grow paddy during the monsoon. Lack of adequate water for irrigation allows them to harvest only one crop a year. The residents migrate, rear livestock, or work as daily wage labourers in construction sites or nearby villages during non-monsoon months.

The impossibility of farm planning

Narayanprasad is in the northern part of Ganjam in a hilly area with dense forest cover. Reaching the village is arduous – six kilometres travel from the main road to pass through Kadaligada village, another six-kilometre walk on a dirt path along the Dasapalla Elephant Reserve, and crossing three streams.

During monsoons, the streams swell, and the heavy current makes it impossible to walk through the water. No public transport exists, and residents travel long distances, sometimes up to 40 km, to process crops or for other needs. The nearest government school and Anganwadi Centre are in Kadaligada village, about six kilometres away.

The village has experienced extreme and irregular weather, such as drought and heavy rainfall, for many years. “Every year, the rainfall pattern changes, and there is enormous crop damage due to heavy rains. We can’t plan anymore to farm,” the other farmers shared with Nilesh.

Never enough water

The primary water source is a spring atop the hill near the village.

In 2007, Gram Vikas partnered with the Narayanprasad community to implement a community-owned water and sanitation programme. It set up a system that channelled the spring water into a central overhead water storage tank which supplied water through piped connections to every household in the village.

The water pipelines from the hilltop passed through the forest ground. Elephants crossing the area walked over them, breaking them beyond repair. The frequent incidents disrupted the water supply often, for over four to five days at a stretch.

In response, in 2017, the village again partnered with Gram Vikas to construct a borewell for water supply to all the houses. But the community still needed more water for irrigation and other productive needs.

Harnessing springs for water security

In November 2021, Nilesh Tripathi, an SBI Fellow, met farmers in Narayanprasad for the first time. He wanted to understand the various socio-economic condition of the people living in the village. Nilesh learnt that although farmers had land, agriculture suffered due to insufficient water for irrigation. The farmers wanted to use their farmlands fully and grow more than one cycle of crops.

Along with a Field Expert in Gram Vikas, he mobilised the farmers to participate in Gram Vikas’ water security initiative by mapping, monitoring and harnessing natural springs. They measured the spring discharge, which revealed enough water to meet the irrigation needs of the village. The group learnt that improved springshed activities could increase the water available, helping even the farmers in nearby villages.

After the initial interactions, Narayan Jani, 36, a farmer from Narayanprasad, volunteered to train with Gram Vikas as a para-hydrologist. Narayan became a part of Gram Vikas ‘Springs Initiative’, which began in October 2019. The initiative creates a cadre of village youth trained in securing, protecting, and developing spring sheds and watersheds.

The youth cadre learns about spring discharge measurement, rainfall monitoring, hydrogeological survey, aquifer mapping, water quality surveillance and geotagging. The data-led, scientifically informed actions, combined with the traditional knowledge of local communities, help identify and manage spring water sources in remote Adivasi habitations.

Para-hydrologists, like Narayan, help implement land development, plantation and conservation activities in the spring catchment area. Narayan learnt to measure the spring water discharge every month and input the data into the mWater application that estimates available water for the village.

Adopting diversion-based irrigation

Nilesh held frequent meetings and focus group discussions on understanding the community’s water demands, availability and needs. He mobilised five farmers to participate in a pilot to adopt diversion-based irrigation (DBI), a system most suited for topographies where canal irrigation is impossible due to the higher altitude of land.

The DBI system taps water from a perennial spring at a higher elevation and diverts it through PVC pipelines to the fields below. In the absence of electricity to operate pumps for water supply in forested hills, DBI utilises gravity flow to transport the water.

The pilot could give the baseline data of the amount of water available in the spring and the need for the intervention.

Growing vegetables in paddy fields

The pilot chose farmers whose fields were close to the stream. They used their paddy fields to grow vegetables using the spring water supplied through the DBI system. The system used the water supply infrastructure built in 2007.

As the spring came under the Tarasingi forest range, the team apprised the Range Officer Tarasingi Range, Divisional Forest Officer and Assistant Conservator of Forest, Ghumsur North division, about the pilot and the need to use the spring water.

The community revived the existing structures, like the underlying pipes lying unused for many years, to irrigate the 0.67 acres of land. Narayan, the para hydrologist, was one of the five farmers in the pilot cohort and helped lay the pipelines channelling water to the fields from the intake tell atop the hill.

The farmers also got support from the Prakruti Bandhu Farmer Producer Company (FPO), formed by farmers in Ganjam’s Jagannathprasad block. Established in May 2016, with Gram Vikas’ support, the 562-member strong FPO has actively empowered smallholder farmers to address farm livelihood issues. With technical guidance and quality seeds from the FPO, the Narayanprasad farmers started growing vegetables on 0.67 acres.

The five farmers, Parameshwar Pradhan, Narayan Mallik, Subala Mallik, Shridhar Jani and Bhajman Jani, selected Rabi crops and cultivated brinjal, onion, tomato, beans and green chilly as part of the pilot.

Farming without rains

The farmers grew confident with introducing new cropping fields, cropping cycles, crops and efficient irrigation facilities. For the first time, farmers cultivated their land without rain.

Parameshwar’s 18-year-old son, Akshay Pradhan, who had migrated to Bhubaneswar to work as a bore machine operator, shared new hopes, “

“If only we could do this earlier. There is ample water for irrigation, and we can cultivate not two but three cycles annually. We can sell the vegetables in the Daspalla and Gayaganda markets. All this means I can come back, live in the village, and earn an income.”

Towards the end of his fellowship in November 2022, Nilesh ensured the community had the necessary water infrastructure for farmers to continue irrigating their lands. He helped build a collection chamber to collect water from the spring and a discharge chamber, a 10x10x6 ft tank to channel the collected water to the fields. The SBI Foundation, through SBI YFI Sahyog, granted ₹93,850/- for the infrastructure.

The fields are now irrigated with water.

Photograph by Nilesh Tripathi


Nilesh Tripathi was an SBI YFI Fellow with Gram Vikas from October 2021 to November 2022. He worked closely with the Narayanprasad village community to implement Gram Vikas Spring Initiative to rejuvenate the springs and ensure water supply for irrigation. Priya Pillai edited the story.


Chandrika Patnaik leads content production within the Communications team in Gram Vikas.


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