Conserving groundwater: Role of women crucial in bringing about significant change

Source: This post is based on article “Conserving groundwater: Role of women crucial in bringing about significant change” published in Down to Earth on 31st August 2021.

Relevance: Role of women to address the water crisis of India.

Synopsis: Increased women participation in groundwater management will shift the intended objectives from technology to governance, demand management, efficiency, improved crop choices and enhancing soil moisture.


India is facing one of the worst water crisis. India is entirely dependent on groundwater and is pumping out the lion’s share of the global volume. Moreover, women, who have a limited say in groundwater governance, are the ones who suffer the most from the water crisis.

This needs to change.

Why women are at the forefront of the issue?

  • Women, who have no decision-making role in investments on such wells, are forced by authorities to take over the liabilities.
  • They are the first respondents to the crisis and are responsible for repayment, overcoming drinking water shortages, finding alternative livelihoods and running the farm and family.
Need for women led approach
  • Women prefer for crops with a lower water footprint.
  • They do farming integrated with animals, which reduces their vulnerability.
  • They have easy market access for vegetables / flowers / fruits.
  • Women have strong desire for use of green water (rainwater that collects in soil) over blue water.
Benefits of women participation
  • Women’s judgement on crop plans, water demand and footprint of crops is different from that of men. For example: In Chipko movement,  women settled for nothing short of a complete ban on the felling of trees to help protect the environment, while their male counterparts conceded to controlled logging in exchange for livelihood.
  • The scope of reducing irrigation is immense when Gram Panchayat-level governance seriously acknowledges recommendations by women.
Alternative models

Any solution to groundwater distress need women collectives and non-profits to focus on alternative models that are based on:

  • regulated pumping
  • enforcement of  local governance and
  • adoption of  sustainable cropping systems.


Any future approach to groundwater conservation needs to be centered around:

  • Organising small farmers in villages into registered bodies, federated at the district  with equal participation of women responsible for managing the entire value chain
  • Technical tools and skills for women to monitor distress
  • Displaying daily technical data at the village centre, bringing value to data through sales to government as well as commercial agencies
  • Creating barefoot groundwater experts with a diploma through year-long farmer water schools
  • Conducting annual groundwater audits at different units scaled up to river basin
  • Capping groundwater pumping for each farm based on approved crop plan. This will increase water availability for future generations.
  • Imposing local governance through Gram Panchayat, with penalties for offenders
  • Linking crop outputs to markets through dedicated marketing channels

The yardstick of success will be the volume safeguarded within the aquifer, instead of what is pumped out. Appropriate incentivisation on water savings will accrue to the collectives.

Following this approach will also lead to reinventing of grass-root democracy, strengthening local institutions and exercising local governance on natural resources.

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