National Geographic : 2009 Nov
• talking. ey held their own independent holy weeks to celebrate the goddess Sati and point- edly stopped attending one another s wed- dings. e Pawars stopped calling the Kales by name, referring to them instead as the "Fed Up People." e hamlet where the Kales now live is known simply as Vaitagwadi, Fed Up Town. As Satichiwadi s harmony deteriorated, an- other kind of diminishment began. Sheep and cows trampled the grassland; the last of the trees disappeared. Crops too began to falter. Farmers gave up growing rice, which required so much water. By March each year, most of the wells across the valley had dried up. With both food and income scarce, villagers started migrating to work on sugarcane planta- tions, on road crews, and in brick factories. "If you had come even three years ago during the dry season," Sitaram Kale, a farmer who also owns a small shop in Satichiwadi, told me, "you would have found only very old people and very small children living here." e villagers did not easily come around to the idea that they could work together and re- vive the valley. Getting them to set aside their differences took months of meetings, several exploratory "exposure visits" to other villages where WOTR s watershed programs had been successful, and the diligent attention of a high- energy young social worker named Rohini Raosaheb Hande, who hiked the path into Sati- chiwadi every other day for six months. Hande was the second social worker WOTR had sent to Satichiwadi; the rst had quit a er a few weeks. "She told me it was a place without hope," Hande recalled. "Nobody would even talk to her." Such resistance is common. In the village of Darewadi, where the watershed work was completed in 2001, one villager had chased WOTR employees away with an ax. Because the organization encourages simultaneous social reconfiguration and environmental change, its e orts o en initially rub farmers the wrong way. WOTR mandates, for example, that village-level water decisions include women, landless people, and members of lower castes, all of whom might ordinarily be excluded. To give the local greenery a chance to recover, vil- lagers must also agree to a multiyear ban on free-grazing their animals and cutting trees for rewood. Finally, they must trust the poten- tial bene ts of watershed work enough to sign on to the sheer tedium it entails---three to ve years spent using pickaxes and shovels to move dirt from one spot to another to redirect the ow of rainwater. In Darewadi an elderly farmer named Chimaji Avahad, who lives with his extended family in a brightly painted two-room home hemmed in by sorghum elds, recalled the early di culties of adjusting to the new rules. He was taken aback, he told me, by the talkative women who lled his life. "Each one of them---my wife, daughters, daughters-in-law, and even granddaughters--- has an opinion," he said, amused. His wife, Nakabai, a tiny woman with a face wizened by years working in the elds, immediately chimed in, "It was a very good change." A walk around Darewadi con rms this. By all accounts a grim and waterless place before the project began more than a decade ago, it now boasts bushes and trees and elds of wild grass. e village s wells now remain full, even at the height of the dry season. With more water, Darewadi s farmers are getting their rst taste of prosperity, moving from producing only enough millet to feed themselves to growing onions, tomatoes, pomegranates, and lentils and selling the surplus in nearby market towns. Avahad now puts about 5,000 rupees (about a hundred dollars) a year in the bank. Darewadi s women have used their new in uence to ban the sale of alcohol and also have formed women s savings groups---a common feature of WOTR projects---that collect a small monthly fee and in turn loan money to members who need it to Darewadi's farmers are getting their first taste of prosperity, growing onions, tomatoes, and lentils and selling the surplus.