Each pond has two connections with the contour channel. These are lined and act as silt traps. The farmer cleans these and the channels regularly to regain the soil washed down. At the end of the summer the pond is also dredged to recover nutrient rich soil. The contour lines eventually connect to a main drainage line which flows down the valley. This drain has many check-dams to further localise water harvesting.
The State from time to time allots land for Dalits in ceremonies redolent with media attention and speech-making. These allotments are however far from habitats and unwanted by anyone else because they are hard to farm. There is such a Dalit allotment in each of Karnataka's districts.
Manjunathapura near Tiptur is one such. 68 families had been allotted 100 ha on barren slopes of a hill. Water was available at 200 feet but there was no hope of getting any electricity. Even if it did come, the people were too poor to buy pumps. Since getting the land long ago, these families had lived about 3 kilometres away in a 'colony'. Though landed they were labourers travelling miles for work.
BIRD-K's renowned success in Adihalli-Mylanhalli, is in many ways founded on the experiments at Manjunathapura. Their work there began in 1992. They found a doughty champion in Rathnamma [picture above] and a willing worker in her husband Rame Gowda. Farm ponds, contour channels, wind breaks, biomass accumulation, fruit and fodder trees on bunds, diversified agriculture and animal husbandry were all sewn together.
What did they do for water in the first year? Its a delightfully unique Indian solution: a pack of 10 mules were trained to shuttle between the colony and the hill carrying water bags slung over their backs. These loyal lovelies had no pack driver but they sincerely ran many convoys in a day. Trees were thus hand watered and nursed.
Results began to show in the second year. Soil moisture and micro climate changes increased productivity. Rame Gowde and Rathnamma's holding became an oft quoted success story. Water table has risen. More and more families have begun to care for their holdings. Some have even moved home. Few go out looking for work. Their farms are productive enough. And finally, these risk taking poor people gave BIRD-K an opportunity to prove its theories and to gain confidence to scale its work to a larger canvas.
Where are those great Indians, the mules that built Manjunathapura? "Oh, they are in great demand. They have moved to another project site, ferrying water!"
And BIRD-K is flying powered by the success of Manjunathapura.
By 1997, all 330 ponds had been dug and connected. Farmers anxiously waited for the next rains. When it came and went, not much change was discernible. There were glum peasant faces all around. Yet the following year changes were dramatic. Soil moisture increased, water levels in the wells rose, water stayed longer in ponds and crop yields got better. What had happened between the first two years? A closer look at water mechanics will give us the answer. When water descends down a section that has been dry for several years, it first wets the grains along the porous path down which it flows. Most of the early charge is absorbed in this process. In subsequent years, the wetting process is completed and the voids begin to fill. As saturation is approached, water rises in wells. Down in the valley rivulets form and flow.
Starting 1998, all these have occurred in Adihalli-Mylanhalli. First the levels in dug out wells rose. And then in 2000, the barren bore wells that we saw earlier spouted like natural geysers, without need of any pumps. The sump in the valley is a vast lake now and has enough water right through the summer. It is estimated that 150 million litres of water is harvested every year. But increased water table is only the obvious effect. The side effects are dizzier.