“I remember when I, along with the other kids, would play in the stream that formed in the village every monsoon season. Now the kids in the village don’t play in the stream because there is no stream anymore, there is no monsoon” regretfully shares Sagar, project manager at Toranam. Climate change strikes the poor the hardest. It threatens their livelihood and their future. Amongst the many regions of India affected by climate change, Madanapalle in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh stands out due to the acute shortage of water. Recently, many borewells have dried up and whole villages are left without water supply. As the monsoon rains often fail to appear, the prolonged drought put the small-scale farmers in the region at greater risk, pushing them further into poverty.

The Toranam Project in Madanapalle strives to create strong, replicable systems in the field of sustainable agriculture, food forestry and land rejuvenation. These systems empower local farmers to duplicate these ecological practices for better food and economic security. Hence it becomes essential to not only judicially use water but also to capture whatever water the rains bring. We at Toranam consider this a prerequisite in achieving our goal of rural self-reliance. 

The cyclic transformation of rejuvenating land begins with harvesting water and enabling it to infiltrate the ground and recharge aquifers. By selecting tree and plant species that are native and non-invasive to the region, such as Sesbania grandiflora (also known as the “vegetable hummingbird” and Moringa oleifera (also known as “wunderbaum”),  the soil structure improves due to the added biomass. This, in turn, increases the water holding capacity and more water infiltration with a reduction in evaporation. Harvesting water from already existing structures is an extremely impactful way of conserving water. 

Toranam water saving practices workshop

Conception stages at Toranam (Credit: Toranam)

The building at Toranam is a Second World War-era structure, with a roof made out of asbestos which is a highly toxic material. Asbestos from the roof slowly erodes and leaches into the water making it unusable for human, animal or agricultural purposes. The roof covers a large area of 456 square metre, which equals over 296,400 Litres of rainwater wasted every year. With a more sustainable roofing material and rainwater capture system in place, this water can be effectively harvested and stored for multiple uses at the Toranam demonstration farm. The water saved will be used to irrigate the garden beds, trees and passively recharge the severely depleted underground aquifers and borewells. 

Read also: Infographic: The Indian Water Crisis

Along with the previously stated issues, India is also amidst a major waste management crisis. There are only a handful of companies handling toxic wastes such as asbestos. The dismantling and removal of roofs containing asbestos can have a serious environmental impact when not done properly, not discounting the health implications for the people handling the material. Given this, instead of removing the existing structure we are taking the help of Saahas Zero Waste, a waste management organisation based in Bengaluru, India which has created a sustainable new roofing material made from used Tetrapak containers. This new upcycled and lightweight roofing material is not only environmentally friendly but can be easily installed on top of the existing roof, thereby completely eliminating the harmful effects of the asbestos on the harvested water.

Harvesting water and putting it to good use is the first step we can all take to re-establish the natural cycles of life and reverse the ill effects of ‘modern’ agriculture and food production that have wreaked havoc on our environment and the lives of farmers. The impact that a small-scale farmer can have using sustainable agricultural practices is immeasurable. Working with mother nature rather than against her will rebuild our traditional relationship with the land and also inspire neighbouring farmers and villages to adopt similar practices.

This can lead to positive changes in local microclimates and eventually restore the global ecosystems. The world is no longer made up of isolated pockets. In a more globalised world, where every action we take has an exponentially large impact, with rising temperatures, erratic global weather, the survival of the human race comes into question- hence every individual becomes not only the stakeholder but the changemaker. We appeal to you to help us bring about this positive transformation. Your contribution and involvement will support the objectives of achieving a more sustainable future for all. We are all members of the same world family, every plant, animal and person are one. Let us bring the world out of disrepair that decades of ignorance and greed has ravished, let the streams that flowed through Sagar’s village and many other villages flow again.