Farm ponds flanked by rows of grape vines greet visitors to Manerajuri village, Sangli district. The village is part of the Tasgaon taluk, known as the grape hub of Maharashtra. Manerajuri’s grape farmers produce more than 3.5 lakh quintals of grapes across 3,500 acres of vineyards, and each farmer can now make INR 2–5 lakh per acre from the produce.
But grapes aren’t the only thing the village is famous for; it is also home to the largest number of ponds in Maharashtra. And the reasons are interlinked.
Till the late 1960s, Manerajuri’s farmers would grow sugarcane, turmeric, and betel leaf. However, these are all water-intensive crops, and Manerajuri was a drought-prone area. A handful of farmers in the area experimented with growing grapes. “Sometime in the 1970s a few farmers, including my father and grandfather, planted grape cuttings,” says Chandrakant Landge, a grape farmer with 13 acres of vineyards. Soon others followed suit. But Manerajuri’s grape farmers did not taste success immediately.
Drought follows a natural cycle in the region, drying up the farms almost every three years in summer. With the total rainfall in Tasgaon taluk limited to 27 days, Manerajuri’s grape farmers were entirely dependent on borewells. The borewell water was inadequate to irrigate the vineyards and fulfil the drinking water needs. And so the farmers were forced to bring in water to irrigate their fields. “From 1980 to 2000, we had to rely solely on water tankers to irrigate our farmlands. The tankers brought water from as far away as 15 km,” recalls Landge, who has been farming since 1993.
Bringing in water also meant reduced profits. To cut down costs and tide over the water scarcity, one of the farmers, Suresh Ganpati Ekunde, came up with a sustainable solution—digging ponds. He reasoned that he could harvest rainwater in the ponds to keep the vineyards alive. “It was sometime in 1999 that I dug a farm pond. I imported HDPE (high-density polyethylene) sheets from Spain to line the pond,” recalls Ekunde.
The one-acre pond cost him approximately INR 4 lakh. However, others who followed his example incurred a lesser cost because by then the imported sheets were declared duty-free.
The farm ponds are a boon for the residents of the village. They provide uninterrupted irrigation for the vineyards, and meet the water needs of farms, cattle feed, and fish farming. Today the village of Manerajuri, with a population of approximately 15,000 people, has 1,150 farm ponds, out of which 435 are self-funded and the rest are subsidised through government schemes such as the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana, MGNREGA, and the Maharashtra government’s Farm Ponds on Demand scheme.
By digging so many farm ponds, Manerajuri’s grape farmers have turned their drought-prone area into a water-sufficient one. The farm ponds have also ushered in affluence for the villagers, who now buy better houses, cars, and farm equipment.
Know more: Learn how construction of ponds has led to exploitation of groundwater in Pune.
Do more: Connect with Hiren Kumar Bose at [email protected] to learn more about and support his work.