A Tale of Two Men

Time : 5/4/2013 3:02:23 AM

   May 4, 2013:It was a time when India had just acquired Independence from the British. A young man from a small town in Switzerland came to Maharashtra as a member of the Society of Jesus. His life’s sole motto was to serve humanity. But did he ever think that this western part of India would be his home for the rest of his life? Did he ever think that he would be known as ‘The Father of Watershed Development Movement in Maharashtra’?

Fr. Herman Bacher devoted his life to social and economic transformation of the drought-prone rural India. During his early years in Maharashtra, he wandered to villages on his bicycle just to come in close contact with the natives. He strongly felt for those neglected people and wanted to do something to improve their conditions.

As Ahmednagar District Superior, Fr. Bacher started giving shape to various schemes for the villagers. He provided moral support to the farmers, dug wells for water, secured funds for agriculture from the Swiss Development Corporation and did every other thing for village development. But reality hit when a severe famine broke in Maharashtra during 1972-74.

Fr. Bacher realised that nothing could be fine without water. And for that water should be captured and stored when it falls. At this point of time, he met a bright young man, in his twenties, having the similar zeal to work for a cause. Crispino Lobo, an alumnus of Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, joined Fr. Bacher to fulfill his dream of Watershed Development in rural India.

Fr. Hermann Bacher was a participant in the review process of German Development Cooperation (GDC) during the 1980s. The organisation reoriented itself to increase financial support for programmes that focused on poverty reduction, Environment al regeneration, self help and women’s empowerment. Fr.Bacher and Crispino Lobo grabbed the opportunity and proposed GDC to fund the Indo-German Watershed Development Programme- Maharashtra (IGWDP M) project. This proposed project fitted well with the new orientation and in 1989 the first official agreement approving the programme was signed.

The fund started coming in from German banks to NABARD from where it went straight to the villages. The villagers contributed their physical labour in constructing CCTs and Bundhs to catch water in its catchment areas and store underground to increase moisture content in the soil. Despite significant challenges in the initial years, the programme has grown to give rise to a number of innovative institutional arrangements and methodologies impacting around 310,000 people in Maharashtra. Its success has led it to spread to 3 other states- Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat.

With this system-based approach to watershed development, Fr. Bacher and Crispino Lobo founded Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR) in 1993 with a mission to regenerate the natural ecosystem with a strong participatory and people-centric approach. WOTR started working in various villages of Maharashtra for stabilising rainfed farming communities. WOTR has worked in 2,531 villages in 33 districts of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Jharkhand.

But suddenly, the traditional climate pattern of India started changing. The two men understood the need to reorganise WOTR with respect to climate change. In the process, they had introduced new approaches and interventions bringing adaptation into the focus-front. WOTR introduced Adaptive Sustainable Agriculture which promotes low external inputs and use of indigenous seeds to increase land productivity and reduce cost of cultivation. Agro Meteorology uniquely combined locale-specific weather forecasts that provide timely information to farmers so that they can plan their agricultural activities accordingly. Last but not the least Water Budgeting that helps communities plan their crops based on their existing needs and requirement of water and water availability.

Fr. Bacher is an old man now. But this octogenarian feels satisfied with his ‘minimum contribution’ for sparking ‘a social revolution in the villages’ and ‘inspiring his next generation to work for the society.’ His able disciple, Crispino Lobo is carrying on his good work but still feels ‘there are miles to go and many things to be done’.
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Tags : Switzerland    Fr. Hermann Bacher    Crispino Lobo    Watershed Development    German Development    Indo-German    IGWDP M    NABARD    WOTR    Sustainable Agriculture    Agro Meteorology    Water Budgeting    


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