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  • In places where rainfall is erratic, the single greatest constraint for small farmers is water control. In Gujarat, India, since the 1980s the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme has been working with tens of thousands of farmers to increase and diversify their crop yields, with projects such as this mini-lift irrigation scheme.
A lift irrigation society ensures access to water in Gujarat

By Apoorva Oza, Chief Executive Officer, Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (India)

A few Sundays ago, I was in Junagadh District (Gujarat, India) for some work. Since I was going to be free in the afternoon and the return train to Ahmedabad was at 10pm, I called up Rudabhai of Samadhiyala Lift Irrigation Society (LIS) to see about a possible visit. He agreed, and asked me to drop in at the LIS office at 4pm. When I landed there, the Committee was waiting. The secretary and members updated me on the progress.

Samadhiyala LIS was started by the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (India) – AKRSP(I) – 33 years ago to address the water problems of a village that was on the banks of the Meghal River. It had saline groundwater so it relied on rain-fed agriculture. However, with a government grant and a bank loan, the LIS was started.

Despite initial worries about large loan repayments, thanks to wise leadership and a habit of all members meeting every month, the loan was paid back in half the required time. Since 1998, when AKRSP(I)’s field visits ended, the LIS has been managing itself. Membership has now doubled. In 2018, it invested approximately Rs. 20 lakhs (US$ 29,148) of its funds saved from higher water rates to replace the main pipeline, which had developed leaks after 25 years.

Water rate recovery continues to be 100% – a discipline the society developed amongst its members even in drought years. The impact in terms of increased income and reduced migration, as well as better education of the next generation, has been substantial. In addition, when I asked them what they felt was the impact of the society on the rest of the village, they mentioned the following:

  • a multi-caste, multi-village society had endured over 30 years without any major conflict. In a caste-divided society, this was a great example to others that caste divisions could be addressed if there was transparency and a clear, common objective;
  • the villagers had internalised planning as a way of life, learning from the LIS, which did annual crop planning, and systematically planned their revenue and expenses.

As the meeting progressed, it was clear that the enthusiasm and curiosity for new ideas in agriculture, which had originally made this society stand out, still had not dimmed. I returned from the meeting, gladdened by the knowledge that amidst the rise and fall of major institutions, this small society had grown, and had become – and remains today – self-reliant.