Towards collaborative watershed management in India: the experience of GTZ-supported projects

Watershed management in India has evolved from a purely technical, top-down delivery in the 1970s, to the current decentralized participatory approach. In 2003, the Ministry of Rural Development’s guidelines on watershed development gave village-level local governments – the panchayati raj – a pivotal role in managing local watershed projects. This policy builds largely on experiences gained in the 1990s by the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ), one of the main international agencies that have assisted the Indian government, local administration and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in implementing integrated watershed management programmes since the late 1990s.

GTZ defines watershed management as the guiding, organization and use of land and other resources in a watershed to provide sustainably desired goods and services without adversely affecting soil and water resources. This definition recognizes the interrelationships among land use, soil and water, the linkages between uplands and downstream areas, and the numerous types of stakeholders. GTZ’s approach to watershed management is based on encouraging stakeholders’ participation, on the premise that a watershed development project can become sustainable only when local actors own and maintain project-created assets. Across India, locally elected watershed panchayati raj can play a major role in this.

GTZ-supported projects focus on developing the capacity of human resources, local communities and local institutions to manage natural resources effectively. Improved farming systems - through crop management, pasture and fodder development, livestock management and organic farming - are also promoted to build sustainable rural livelihoods and opportunities for adding value to farm and non-farm products and services. A key feature of the GTZ approach to watershed management is its work to manage the many, often competing, demands on a watershed, such as the water needs of agriculture, households, industry, livestock, forests, wildlife and tourism. Managing conflict among social groups and between upstream and downstream users of watershed resources is therefore an important feature of GTZ projects. Decentralization is promoted through village-level water resource projects, self-help groups, local knowledge centres and capacity building of local actors. Technical backstopping mechanisms are promoted by strengthening the linkages among panchayati raj, line departments and private sector institutions and companies. Participatory impact monitoring systems are established to enable local government and other stakeholders to make sound and timely decisions.

GTZ’s experience in India suggests that the best approach to watershed management is to work in a participatory way, using sound local technologies and sharing the costs and benefits. In line with the government’s policy, GTZ’s watershed projects take revenue villages or panchayati as the unit of implementation, and work with local stakeholders to plan, design, implement and monitor interventions and prioritize activities that strengthen local livelihoods. This helps to build a sense of local ownership.

GTZ’s experience in India also demonstrates the importance of forging good institutional linkages when implementing a project. There is a crucial need for long-term supporting actors who can provide technical backstopping after project support has ended. GTZ therefore has a policy of phasing-out the temporary organizational structures and services that have been created to run projects. The aim is to institute post-project networking among permanent stakeholders, in order to continue the processes started by the project and ensure project sustainability.

Adapted from R. Kotru. 2005. “Watershed management experiences in GTZ-supported projects in India”. In M. Achouri, L. Tennyson, K. Upadhyay and R. White, eds. Preparing for the next generation of watershed management programmes and projects. Proceedings of the Asian Workshop, Kathmandu, 11 to 13 September 2003. Watershed Management and Sustainable Mountain Development Working Paper No. 5. Rome, FAO, FORC Department.

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last updated:  Tuesday, March 27, 2007