We, Emmely and Marie, visited UBU’s partner organisation Joygopalpur Gram Vikash Kendra (JGVK) in West Bengal in February-March.
The purpose of the visit was to monitor and evaluate the status of our 3-year project on Sustainable Water Resources Management (SWRM) and then later write a report to our donor organisation CISU.
The midterm evaluation (literally an evaluation half-way through the project) is important for documentation and learning for all parties involved in the project. We certainly feel that we have learned a lot from our visit and are ready to enter the second phase of the project.
In total we visited 5 out of 12 Gram Panchayats (GPs) and 3 out of 6 Blocks during our stay. Our itinerary included field visits to farmers and self-help groups (SGHs), tree plantations, rainwater harvesting systems, schools, and local authorities. We also participated in a groundwater measurement and attended a conference on Block level. Finally, we had a budget meeting and facilitated an Outcome Harvesting workshop for the project staff.
During our field visit to Masjidbati GP, we met 13 farmers who are cultivating rice by the Systems of Rice Intensification (SRI) method. SRI is a way to cultivate rice using less water than conventional methods. Cultivation of alternative crops (i.e. all other crops than rice), such as potatoes and legumes, is another way of saving groundwater as well as ensuring a well-balanced diet for the farmers and their families. Being among the first ones to try these ground-breaking methods in their villages, the farmers were initially ridiculed by their neighbours, but now, these same neighbours are instead inspired by the clearly visible results and are motivated to try out the method themselves for next season.
In Jyotishpur GP, we had the honour to meet 33 women who were all part of an SHG. In SHGs, the small member fee enables the women to save money and thus provide microloans to members when needed. Furthermore, the SHGs provide a forum for discussion and emotional support. During our meeting, we got an insight into how they organize themselves as well as the issues they discuss at their meetings (e.g. plastic pollution and how to deal with stagnant water).
For the conference on Block level, we travelled to a village close to the Bangladeshi border, where JGVK had invited the Central Ground Water Board to give a talk about the importance of preserving groundwater and the reasons for groundwater depletion in the area. 100 farmers were encouraged to come and 140 actually showed up, which was a good sign!
An important finding during the midterm evaluation visit was that more than 50 % of the so-called suction pumps in the intervention areas have been replaced by lift pumps by the government as a means to tackle the decreasing groundwater levels. This has complicated the procedure of taking measurements, as the pipe, which needs to be lifted out of its installment, is longer and thus heavier. This means that more time and labour is needed to conduct the measurements. Furthermore, some villagers are very protective of their wells and thus opposed to the conduction of measurements. Thus, we are currently working on a solution together with JGVK on how to best continue the measurements so that we can properly document the change in groundwater levels as these measurements are a pivotal part of the project.
During our field visits, it has been particularly rewarding to meet the project staff from the Community-Based Organisations (CBOs) that JGVK is collaborating with in Blocks outside of Basanti Block and talk directly to farmers and villagers who are involved in the project. One of these CBOs is Baikunthapur Tarun Sangha located in Kultali Block. During our field visit there, we were thoroughly impressed by the extensive cultivation of alternative crops taking place in the area, as well as their almost exclusive use of organic practices in agriculture. We were quick to conclude that Baikunthapur should be used as an example for other GPs to inspire farmers, showing just how much you can benefit economically from cultivating alternative crops that usually have a much higher market price than rice.
To conclude, the midterm evaluation visit has been an incredibly rewarding experience, and we are very excited about the next phase of the project. We would like to give our sincere thanks to JGVK and their partners for not only the countless translations, explanations, and incredible organisation, but also for their strong enthusiasm and for making us feel like family. We are looking forward to our next visit!
Emmely and Marie