Assessing the Environmental Benefits of Watershed Development: Evidence from the Indian Semi-Arid Tropics
Many environmental benefits result from watershed interventions in the semi-arid tropics. Environmental benefits may be defined as the condition and process through which ecosystems sustain and fulfill human life, including the provision of food and other goods. The spillover effects of these benefits range from an increase in household welfare condition to ecosystem sustainability. An attempt is made in this paper to assess these benefits in the context of Indian Semi-arid tropics using primary data collected from two micro watersheds (Rajasamadhiyala and Shekta watersheds). Results indicate that groundwater availability has substantially increased and soil conservation has brought changes in cropping patterns with high-value crops. Rainwater harvesting through check dams, causeway cum check dams, percolation tanks, farm ponds and earthen bunds have significantly increased water storage capacity and water availability along with doubling the production of major crops. Significant increases in irrigated area, cropping intensity along with diversification of crops from traditional to commercial cash crops were recorded in the watersheds. Assessing the environmental benefits accrued from the watershed development approach may lead to the identification of ‘keystone elements’ in a landscape that have a substantial impact by providing multi-functions. The integrated watershed management practices adopted in the two micro watersheds substantially improved the sustainability in these watersheds. Using available methods we have assessed the environmental benefits of micro watersheds in the Indian semi-arid tropics.