Grassroots Frugality: Small-Scale and Decentralised Rainwater Harvesting in the Bundelkhand Region of India
Apna Talab Abhiyan, or the ‘Own-a-Pond Initiative’, was started in 2003 by local farmers and NGOs with the support of the local government administration in the drought prone Bundelkhand region of North-Central India. The goal of Apna Talab Abhiyan was to revive traditional knowledge of rainwater harvesting, spread awareness about it among local farmers, rejuvenate old collective ponds, and facilitate the construction of small-scale individual ponds. In 2018, the provincial government launched Khet Talab Yojana (the ‘Farm Pond Scheme’), which provided financial subsidies for local farmers to construct small and decentralised ponds in their fields. This institutional support helped Apana Talab Abhiyan scale up its grassroots initiatives, but it also brought new challenges to the NGO. The core of Apana Talab Abhiyan’s existence was to stimulate frugal innovation in the local context. However, Khet Talab Yojana focused more on providing financial support and creating visible structures (ponds and dug wells). With the entrance of Khet Talab Yojana, aspects like communication with local farmers, emphasis on frugality, flexibility of design, and incorporation of tacit and experiential knowledge were side-lined. Because Khet Talab Yojana took much of the credit for grassroots initiatives and exerted a lot of control over how things should be done, Apna Talab Abhiyan was even at the risk of being appropriated. The case stimulates discussion on the role of local resources, including knowledge and (in)formal institutions, in frugal innovation initiatives at the grassroots level.