The primary cause for poverty and marginalization in rainfed rural areas is low crop and livestock productivity coupled with deterioration in the quality of land and other natural resources. Therefore, any attempt aimed at rural development and poverty alleviation has to address the issues related to conservation and management of natural resources and improving the productivity of land through different land management practices. This requires multidimensional, inter-sectoral and comprehensive efforts in an integrated approach.
Watershed is a geo-hydrological unit draining to a common point by a system of drains. Watershed development refers to the conservation; regeneration and the judicious use of all the natural resources particularly land, water, vegetation and animals and human development within the watershed. All land-based productive activities are dependent on the topography of the area, soil type, available biomass and water and call for adopting an integrated management approach, which can be better evolved within a natural domain such as the watershed. This is because a watershed is an intricate, dynamic and natural functional unit established by physical relationships and social communication and actions. Thus, watershed as a unit enables planners and implementing agency to consider all inputs, processes and expected outputs systematically which are essential for a holistic development approach.
In a country like India, where the majority of the population is engaged in livelihoods largely dependent on the natural resource such as agriculture, factors like quality, availability and access to natural resources occupy a crucial role in influencing incomes earned by households. In a situation like this, watershed development and management practices play a dual role of natural resource conservation as well as livelihood enhancement. For instance, improved soil quality and water availability facilitate higher crop productivity and more fodder for livestock, which in turn augments income earned by the people engaged in such occupation.
Watershed development approach is based on participatory planning following a bottom-up approach for developing a context appropriate plan for execution; empowerment and employment of people through establishment and strengthening of local level institution; conservation and appropriate management of watershed’s natural resources through holistic development of the watershed; sustainability through people’s participation in the process of development, voluntary contribution and formulation and adoption of a withdrawal strategy for post-project sustainability of the project. In the community-based participatory watershed development project, villagers create and maintain the assets and thus have a strong sense of ownership, which is the key to the sustainability of such project.
To make a watershed project a success, it is very important for the community to come together and participate in planning, initiation and execution of location-specific watersheds development activities such as soil, water and biomass conservation measures. People’s participation is the key to managing and sustaining the assets created under the watershed development project for community development. There is a close relationship between man and environment and any changes in the environment directly affect the lives of the people depending on it for their sustenance. Therefore, it is utmost important to tackle environmental degradation effectively for the holistic development of the watershed for addressing the issues of human development along with the capacity building of the stakeholders towards creation and maintenance of the assets which are important for ensuring the sustainability of a watershed project.