Adopting Sustainable Water Practices in India

How BCI Farmers’ Children Encouraged Their Parents to Save Water

All images © BCI/Morgan Ferrar

All images © BCI/Morgan Ferrar

In Talaja, Bhavnagar district — a coastal area bordering the Arabian Sea in Gujarat, India — Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) Farmers Shaileshbhai Ukabhai Rao and Shilpaben Rao live in a peaceful, rural village called Ishora with their 11-year-old son, Yuvraj, and their 7-year-old daughter, Mahi. 

Shaileshbhai followed in his father’s footstep, becoming a cotton farmer and farming the same land his father once did. Shaileshbhai and Shilpaben have been participating in the BCI Programme since 2017, learning many good agricultural practices from BCI’s on-the-ground partner, the Coastal Salinity Prevention Cell (CSPC), an organisation dedicated to enhancing rural coastal communities’ quality of life in Gujarat while sustaining the fragile environment. 

As the climate emergency tightness its grip on India, the Monsoon rains are becoming less predictable, making water for farming hard to come by in Talaja. When Shaileshbhai was his son’s age, the Monsoon used to last around 50 to 60 days. But today, it lasts around half that time, while the same amount of rain still engulfs the earth – the fresh rainwater doesn’t get the chance to absorb into the ground. Instead, it runs off into the sea, causing the remaining water in the water wells to become more saline (salty). This leaves farmers with no choice but to use salty water to irrigate their crops, compounding the vulnerabilities in coastal areas. 

Furthermore, the salty water has created health issues in the community, like skin infections, and kidney stones, for example.

“As our groundwater becomes saltier, we become trapped in a vicious cycle. The soil also becomes salty, reducing the cotton plants’ ability to absorb moisture and nutrients, which has a direct impact on our yield and profits."
Shaileshbhai Ukabhai Rao
“Agriculture is our way of life and our only source of income, so any harm to our crops means we might not be able to provide for our family.”
Shilpaben Rao

Leaving the temple in Ishora village.

Leaving the temple in Ishora village.

L to R: Yuvraj, Mahi.

L to R: Yuvraj, Mahi.

L to R: Shaileshbhai, Yuvraj, Mahi, Shilpaben.

L to R: Shaileshbhai, Yuvraj, Mahi, Shilpaben.

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Leaving the temple in Ishora village.

Leaving the temple in Ishora village.

L to R: Yuvraj, Mahi.

L to R: Yuvraj, Mahi.

L to R: Shaileshbhai, Yuvraj, Mahi, Shilpaben.

L to R: Shaileshbhai, Yuvraj, Mahi, Shilpaben.

Enabling Children to Spread Positive Messages about Sustainable Water Use in the Community

One warm early summer evening in 2019, not long after Shaileshbhai and Shilpaben had planted the cotton seeds for the season ahead, Yuvraj and Mahi stopped them in their tracks as they began to clean up after dinner. 

Shaileshbhai was about to throw half a glass of undrunk water away when Yuvraj exclaimed:

“Papa, stop, it’s really important that we don’t waste water!”
Yuvraj Rao

Yuvraj and Mahi went on to tell their parents about a giant Snakes and Ladders board game they’d played at school that day to learn about water-savings.

“We had so much fun playing Snakes and Ladders. If we land on a ladder, we receive a message about how to save water, and we go up the ladder. But if we land on a snake, we receive a message about water misuse and the snake bites us, then we go down the snake. All of our classmates watch us from the side-lines and cheer us on, and the first person to get to the end of the board is the winner."
Yuvraj Rao
“If we land on a ladder, we move towards a good, healthy life. If we land on a snake, it bites us, and we go backwards. And by the way, the winner got chocolates!”
Mahi Rao
"By effectively utilising water through drip irrigation, electricity is also saved."
"Wastage of water is dangerous for all."

Yuvraj Mao

Yuvraj Mao

Before playing the game, all the schoolchildren took a short quiz to understand how much they already know about good water use. The messages on the Snakes and Ladders board relate to their everyday experience of water, such as how their parents irrigate their farms or how water is used in the home. For example, a ‘ladder up’ message might be that their family is ensuring water doesn’t get leaked from taps at home, while a ‘snake bite’ message might be that unused water at home is thrown out onto the street rather than used to water the garden.

L to R: Yuvraj, Shaileshbhai, Shilpaben, Mahi.

L to R: Yuvraj, Shaileshbhai, Shilpaben, Mahi.

“I was astonished by my children’s understanding and impressed that they could talk so knowledgeably about using water responsibly. My wife and I were delighted that our children were so interested in caring for the environment, and they’re learning things that will be useful for their future.” 
Shaileshbhai Ukabhai Rao
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“We learnt so many interesting things through the game. We know that having enough clean water is important for a good life. If our father didn’t have enough fresh water to grow healthy crops, we might not have enough food to eat. And, if our water is unclean, we might become too ill to go to school.”
Mahi Rao
“At home, we encouraged our parents to add a tap to the earthenware pot where we store our drinking water in order to spill as few drops as possible. We also learnt that this is healthier than using our hands to scoop up water from the pot with a glass.”
Yuvraj Rao.

Earthenware pot with the newly added tap.

Earthenware pot with the newly added tap.

“And if we see a leaking tap, at home or at school, we must close it. We’ve also suggested that Mama pours used water on the garden to feed the flowers.”
Mahi Rao.

Mahi making sure the tap is properly closed.

Mahi making sure the tap is properly closed.

CSPC 'Producer Unit' Manager Dilipbhai Zala (who hosts the Snakes & Ladders games) with the children at the school in Ishora village.

CSPC 'Producer Unit' Manager Dilipbhai Zala (who hosts the Snakes & Ladders games) with the children at the school in Ishora village.

Supporting BCI Farmers to Adopt Water-Saving Practices on Their Farms

Coastal Salinity Prevention Cell (CSPC), our partner, translates BCI’s vision into on-the-ground action, supporting 11,000 BCI Farmers in Gujarat. They’re one of our global network of Implementing Partners who are responsible for delivering the BCI Programme to farming communities, ensuring they continuously improve good practices. Our partners interpret the core principles of the Better Cotton Standard in a culturally relevant way for local farmers, with smallholders learning how to address their specific challenges through dedicated learning groups and practical demonstrations.

CSPC staff Dilipbhai Zala and Takhtsinh Jadeja conduct a BCI training session for BCI Farmers and farm workers.

CSPC staff Dilipbhai Zala and Takhtsinh Jadeja conduct a BCI training session for BCI Farmers and farm workers.

Farmers attend a training session and learn about good agricultural practices.

Farmers attend a training session and learn about good agricultural practices.

Farmers attend a training session and learn about good agricultural practices.

Farmers attend a training session and learn about good agricultural practices.

BCI Farmer Punamchand Jalela

BCI Farmer Punamchand Jalela

BCI Farmer Punamchand Jalela making a natural pesticide using only ingredients found in nature.

BCI Farmer Punamchand Jalela making a natural pesticide using only ingredients found in nature.

BCI Farmer Punamchand Jalela making a natural pesticide using only ingredients found in nature.

BCI Farmer Punamchand Jalela making a natural pesticide using only ingredients found in nature.

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CSPC staff Dilipbhai Zala and Takhtsinh Jadeja conduct a BCI training session for BCI Farmers and farm workers.

CSPC staff Dilipbhai Zala and Takhtsinh Jadeja conduct a BCI training session for BCI Farmers and farm workers.

Farmers attend a training session and learn about good agricultural practices.

Farmers attend a training session and learn about good agricultural practices.

Farmers attend a training session and learn about good agricultural practices.

Farmers attend a training session and learn about good agricultural practices.

BCI Farmer Punamchand Jalela

BCI Farmer Punamchand Jalela

BCI Farmer Punamchand Jalela making a natural pesticide using only ingredients found in nature.

BCI Farmer Punamchand Jalela making a natural pesticide using only ingredients found in nature.

BCI Farmer Punamchand Jalela making a natural pesticide using only ingredients found in nature.

BCI Farmer Punamchand Jalela making a natural pesticide using only ingredients found in nature.

BCI’s water stewardship principle requires BCI Farmers to be responsible for conserving water supplies in their area — using water responsibly and keeping it free from pollutants —thus achieving higher yields and building their resilience to the climate emergency. Meghal Soni of CSPC and his team teach water-saving practices, including drip irrigation and sprinkler irrigation technologies that direct smaller, more precise amounts of water to farmers’ crops. In this way, the plants get just the amount of water they need. To help BCI Farmers’ optimise their use of irrigation water, CSPC promotes irrigating alternate furrows. Shaileshbhai has adopted this water-saving technique, planting his crops on ridges and irrigating every other trench (or furrow) in between. It’s just one of the tactics he has learnt through CSPC to conserve scarce fresh water supplies on his 1.8-hectare farm.

Meghal Soni, CSPC Programme Manager.

CSPC 'Producer Unit' Manager Dilipbhai Zala (L) and CSPC Programme Manager Meghal Soni (R).

Meghal Soni, CSPC Programme Manager.

CSPC 'Producer Unit' Manager Dilipbhai Zala (L) and CSPC Programme Manager Meghal Soni (R).

Green manuring is another water-saving technique that CSPC encourages BCI Farmers to adopt.

“Green manuring is a simple yet high impact technique to help keep moisture in the soil, which is vital in water-scarce areas like Talaja. Farmers sow Dhaincha seeds [a flowering legume plant] in their fields, creating a lush green layer on the surface of the soil which improves the soil and acts to retain moisture. It adds nutrients to the soil, improving its productivity.” 
Meghal Soni, CSPC Programme Manager

Shaileshbhai Ukabhai Rao, taking a chai break.

Shaileshbhai Ukabhai Rao, taking a chai break.

“I was interested in these techniques and have experimented with alternate furrow irrigation when the water levels in the wells are low, with some success."
Shaileshbhai Ukabhai Rao

He also tried rotating his crops (growing different crops alternately in a particular field to help the soil regenerate), which also helps to preserve the health of the soil.

Shaileshbhai Ukabhai Rao

Shaileshbhai Ukabhai Rao

“When our children played Snakes and Ladders at school and learnt about water-saving techniques, they were so excited about what they learnt. They’ve really inspired us to step up our commitment and reinforced how urgently we must save water.”
BCI Farmer Shaileshbhai Ukabhai Rao

Both Yuvraj and Mahi are pressing their parents to invest in smarter water-saving techniques, like drip irrigation.

“Drip irrigation is expensive and we’re not quite able to buy the technology we need just yet. But now our children are asking us to take greater care of water, we’re redoubling our efforts to save the money we need for this. For now, we’re going to do everything we can within our means, such as adopting alternate furrow irrigation as standard, and using CSPC’s green mulching technique."
Shaileshbhai Ukabhai Rao
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Showing Innovation to Spread the Message that BCI Farmers Must Promote Water Stewardship

In 2019, Coastal Salinity Prevention Cell decided to take the Snakes and Ladders game to schools in cotton farming communities across Talaja. They reached approximately 6,500 schoolchildren in 24 schools with their message about sustainable water use. 

“We quickly realised that engaging school children with the freshwater crisis was an effective strategy to create positive change in the community. When children go home to their parents, they tell them the interesting things they’ve learnt at school, which often brings about changes in parents’ attitude and behaviour.”
Meghal Soni, CSPC Programme Manager

L to R: Yuvraj, Shaileshbhai, Shilpaben, Mahi.

L to R: Yuvraj, Shaileshbhai, Shilpaben, Mahi.

“I am even more aware of the need to save water as a result of participating in BCI training sessions and Yuvraj and Mahi playing CSPC’s Snakes and Ladders game."
Shaileshbhai Ukabhai Rao
“It has really brought home to me how important it is that we all play our part in protecting the world’s water and taking care of the precious resources we have left." 
Shilpaben Rao.
“Water is crucial for life, and it’s our responsibility to take care of it – at home, at school and in the fields."
Yuvraj Rao.