APFAMGS: Teaching Farmers to Use Groundwater Sustainably

In an effort to always be learning something new that’s going on in the world of water I spend a lot of time searching the internet and reading various studies and articles.  This week I came upon a very interesting program that was done in the Andhra Pradesh region of India.  The program, which is appropriately called the Andhra Pradesh Farmer Managed Groundwater Systems (APFAMGS), covered 638 villages in seven districts that are prone to drought (Anantapur, Chittoor, Cuddapah, Kurnool, Mahabubnagar, Nalgonda and Prakasam).  The initial five year program concluded in 2009 with much success, and I believe this program can be used in other areas with the same level of success.

Groundwater in Andhra Pradesh is very important; it is used for half of all farming irrigation needs within the region.  As you can expect, in rural areas where people have little knowledge of the hydrological cycle and how aquifers work the groundwater is pumped without much thought to the consequences over-pumping can have.  Over the 30 years prior to the implementation of the plan the depths of bore wells rose from an average of 30 meters to 90 meters, and in some areas as deep as 200 meters.  Further, during this same period the area being irrigated via groundwater doubled in size, and the number of bore wells in the region spiked.

Putting this information together it’s clear that the groundwater in the area was being depleted, and quickly.  With this in mind the APFAMGS was formed and implemented by a number of NGOs being supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN.  The assumption behind APFAMGS is that sustainable management of the groundwater can only be achieved through education of the people using it.  The program has a series of objectives to achieve this including:

  1. Facilitating the creation of skilled people who take the responsibility of groundwater management.
  2. Make the farmers aware of groundwater dynamics as well as the consequences of overuse.
  3. Talk about the concerns that the farmers have about overuse and come up with solutions to those problems.
  4. Teach the users about the benefits of participating in management of their water resources.
  5. Institutionalize the community management of groundwater to deal with issues related to sustainable groundwater management.
  6. Facilitate the formation of Groundwater Management Committees (GMC) made up of the users of groundwater to monitor the level of the groundwater, rainfall, and discharge.
  7. Introduce and promote Crop Water Budgeting (CWB) as a tool to help farmers identify proper crops to plant depending on water levels.
  8. Promote eco-friendly farming practices through the Farmer Field School (FFS) approach (also known as Farmer Water Schools).
  9. Empower communities to employ appropriate groundwater recharge measures.

These objectives are achieved through a sequence of activities which include:

  1. Introduction of community approaches to systematic record daily rainfall measurements with the end goal of understanding the rainfall trends.
  2. Monitoring of the yield and level of wells in the program area.
  3. Promoting Crop Water Budgeting through water balance studies.
  4. The empowerment of women and gender sensitization through equal representation of women in Community Based Institutions (CBI) and through full participation of women in all aspects of the program.
  5. To facilitate communication throughout the village display boards are set up showing rainfall records and water level trends.
  6. Documentation and minutes of meetings.

Now that we’ve looked at the problem and the solution, let’s see what their results were.

  1. 6,882 men and woman farmers were educated and now understand the groundwater system.
  2. 7,029 farming families now have the knowledge to implement alternative farming practices based on the availability of groundwater.
  3. 574 community institutions were established with equal representation of male and female residents.
  4. Efficient water use practices such as mulching, bunding, improved irrigation practices, and large scale promotion of water saving devices have been implemented by farmers.
  5. The reduction of the amount of water pumped and the number of new wells being installed.

One thing that I think is important to note is that productivity of crops was not impacted by the sustainable use of water.  It has actually been found that the profit of the farmers went up after the implementation of APFAMGS.  The following is a charge put together by the World Bank during their evaluation of the project.

From World Bank unpublished report “Deep Wells and Prudence- Towards Pragmatic Action for Addressing Groundwater”

Also, from this next graph you can see that the static water levels during the program implementation were high, an indicator of the effect of natural groundwater recharge conditions and demand side management of groundwater.

These numbers speak for themselves in showing the impact that this program has had on productivity.  To see other statistics of the success you can look at this report (see tables towards the end) Andhra Pradesh Farmer Managed Groundwater Systems Project.

The success of the program goes beyond numbers.  By educating people about groundwater and hydrology they now have a tool that they can use for the rest of their lives and hand down to their children and also teach to other people.  Also, groundwater, which was previously thought of as the private property of the person pumping, is now thought of as a shared commodity between everyone in the village which fosters communication and cooperation between everyone who depends on the groundwater.

The World Bank considers APFAMGS “the first global example of large-scale success in ground water management by communities only through empowerment with new knowledge and without any incentives.”  That’s saying a lot about the people and communities involved in the program.  As I’ve said before, and I’m sure will say again, given the chance to educate themselves and improve their livelihood people will excel.  Until next time, thanks for reading.







APFAMGS: Teaching Farmers to Use Groundwater Sustainably
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2 thoughts on “APFAMGS: Teaching Farmers to Use Groundwater Sustainably

  • October 27, 2012 at 8:21 pm

    The importance of this program cannot be overstated. This program must accompany initiatives such as “Powering Agriculture” The ability of renewable energy to over pump aquifers could turn water availability revolutions into disastrous consequences for farmers with no bore holes who depend on high water level ground water.for survival.
    This can assure abundance over the long haul.

  • February 12, 2013 at 6:40 am

    Very interesting program indeed! Working in Zambia and Tanzania, my company is also looking into ways of how to set up a monitoring program for boreholes/production wells for farmers. Can someone tell me how this was achieved in this program, and how reliable and comprehensive the data collection and transfer was? Maybe also links to somewhat more advanced techniques (e.g. automatic data transfer, graphichal production of groundwater influence)?


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