From my previous jargon-filled blog on defining scaling up, let’s move swiftly and speedily on to a more interesting case study: scaling up (effective) watershed management in India.
Watershed management is the integrated management of an entire ecosystem and its water, soil, forests and pasture resources to improve their quantity and quality. This approach was at least a hundred years old, and by no means a “new” innovation, when a Jesuit priest from Switzerland, Hermann Bacher, took it up for promotion on a large scale in the drought-prone district of Ahmednagar in Maharashtra, India, in the late 1980s.
The Famine Commission of 1880 had promoted the approach as part of the first attempt by the British to address widespread famine in India. After Independence, watershed management became a key component of Indian policy, with several ministries investing heavily in the approach, including the ministries of water, agriculture, rural development, and environment and forests. It is difficult to assess the overall impact of these investments because comprehensive data is not available, but the overall performance has been poor. A number of reasons have been attributed to this poor performance, including: the lack of integration of action and resources between these various ministries; “cookie-cutter” implementation without consideration for local hydrology; lack of community buy-in, resulting in little interest in operating and maintaining assets once project support ended; and inequitable sharing of benefits, with most benefits going to landed farmers.
Meanwhile, although NGOs had implemented more participatory and custom-made projects, they were mostly small-scale and expensive to replicate.
Bacher was the founder of an NGO called the Social Centre in Ahmednagar. He was aware of the potential of the watershed management in mitigating drought and poverty in Maharashtra, a state that suffers recurrent drought and crop failures. From the outset, therefore, he integrated elements that would encourage replication of the Social Centre’s work in a village called Pimpalgaon Wagha.
These elements included: a strong sense of ownership among villagers in design and implementation; a reliable and supportive funding source, including not just grants but also credit; links with government departments from the outset, for their support and subsequent role in scaling up; arrangements with agricultural universities and government departments to meet the technical and capacity needs of the villagers; and an exit strategy for support from external agencies such as the Social Centre.
Bacher brought together the Government of Germany (BMZ) and its developmental institutions (KfW and GTZ), with the National Bank for Agricultural and Rural Development (NABARD), along with voluntary agencies and self-help groups, into a partnership and synergy that came to be called the Indo-German Watershed Development Programme (IGWDP).
Realising the importance of involving all stakeholders, including local, state and national government actors, financial institutions, and the political establishment, he ensured that each partner had autonomy in their sphere of competence, but were jointly responsible for successful project management. In 1993, he founded the Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR) with the specific aim of catering to the capacity building needs of IGWDP.
By 1994, Pimpalgaon Wagha saw a doubling of crop production; a ten-fold increase in milk production; year-round availability of drinking water; the creation of employment opportunities for landless labour over nine months of the year; and diversification of the village economy into artisanal and other activities.
Impressed by this success, the Government of Maharashtra adopted a Cabinet Resolution extending political, administrative and technical support to organisations involved in watershed development under the IGWDP.
IGWDP defined two clear phases for its engagement with villages in the process of replicating the success of Pimpalgaon Wagha. In the first phase, over the initial 12-18 months, the focus was on capacity building by WOTR. During this time, the Gram Sabha nominated a Village Watershed Committee, and villagers and supporting NGOs were trained in skills necessary for watershed development, such as soil, land, water, crop, fodder and forest management. An agricultural specialist or civil engineer (trained in participatory planning by WOTR) was then contracted to help in drafting a watershed development plan together with the villagers, which was submitted to NABARD. NABARD was chosen as a channel for funding mainly to create a stake for the central government; overcome complexities of Village Watershed Committees or small agencies having to tackle foreign exchange regulations; and navigate relationships with technical staff in line departments (such as agriculture and forestry), who were comfortable dealing with NABARD.
If the plan was approved, a four-year Full-Scale Implementation Phase followed. Funds from KfW were routed to local-level agencies through NABARD, and villagers contributed towards 16% of the cost of unskilled labour. WOTR provided on-going support during the Implementation Phase, while NABARD was responsible for monitoring and supervision along with project coordinators. Project funds were sent directly to a joint account of the Village Watershed Committees and supporting NGO. Once the works were complete, half of the 16% contribution made by the village was returned to the Watershed Committee, to form the core of a Maintenance Fund. A strategy was also implemented to manage social tensions, which allowed the legitimate interests of dominant groups to be met only if those of the weaker groups were met.
Within four years, the programme expanded 8 times in terms of number of projects and 10 times in terms of area covered. Now managed by WOTR, it reaches 3,594 villages in seven states – Maharashtra, Telangana, Seemaandhra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Odisha. The impacts of this work include drought proofing, improved crop production, additional employment, restoration of depleted groundwater, creation of socially cohesive and inclusive watershed committees, and the formation of locally-owned development funds.
Some of the elements that contributed to rapid replication include: the creation of a relatively low-cost “model” that could be adapted to local circumstances; strong community involvement, including in the management of funds; arrangements to meet the capacity and technical needs of villages in adapting the approach to local circumstances (without technocrats hijacking the process); involving key stakeholders, including government departments, from the outset; building strong political support; and monitoring results to showcase success.
As we will see in the other case studies that will follow, most of these elements are echoed in other successes in scaling up.