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Staring down droughts in Dharwad, Karnataka[continued]

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They next began to organise them into self-help groups or 'sanghas'. Eventually there were 154 sanghas with membership between 15 and 20 each. The sanghas formed a federation and began to elect office bearers. Sanghas were encouraged to be just talking shops, because the team knew that it always led to bonding. Sanghas discussed and evaluated all ideas the BAIF team proposed. It was soon agreed that without concord nothing could be achieved.

A spectacular demonstration of this bonding came in 1999. 525 people from all the 22 villages gathered at Harogeri and built a check dam. It is 140 feet long and 12 feet high and can arrest and recharge 2 million litres of water. It took them 3 months to build, using only locally found materials. But the most amazing thing about this dam is that only 15 farmers directly benefit by their proximity. Villagers didn't mind that. They understood that water charged into the ground benefited everyone. The message that water was central to development had gone home.

Ponds arrive:

You can't talk to a BAIF man for long before he will wax eloquent about farm ponds. The success of Tiptur ponds has been widely acclaimed. Ponds therefore, began to crop up at Dharwad as well. The only cash that was ever given to the beneficiaries was between Rs.3,000 and Rs 10,000 per family, to either dig a pond or start a small business, if landless. This too was a loan, paid back with interest to the sangha's coffers.

Eventually 740 ponds were dug, each with a capacity of 140,000 litres. In all 100 million litres of water began to be trapped and charged into the ground every year. The difference was there for all to see. Water levels rose in wells everywhere, soil began to be wetter, fodder became available for longer periods and top-soil run off ceased. Drought was on the back foot.

Families were encouraged to plant fruit trees and other trees of economic value. Medicinal plants and fodder crops were grown. BAIF issued saplings of assured quality. Food basket on the table began to be diverse and rich. Moods began to lift.

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