Sudha Gunavante The State’s Green Ambassador

sudha gunavante

“If you are determined to achieve a worthwhile goal then no one can stop you to achieve your desire”, that’s what Sudha Gunavante believes, Sudha Gunavante a gratified woman and why she not be, she managed to succeed on her farm business, her children are well-educated and well-settled, and her Rhododendron Syrup is the pride of her village. Today we feel proud to talk and let you all know about the lady “Sudha Gunavante” who lives in Gauna, a small village in Lamgarha Tehsil of Almora district in Uttarakhand.

When Sudha got married and came here some 30 years ago, the village was still curse-stricken. The nearest source of water was a spring at the bottom of the mountain on which the village was located – a very steep 3km walk down, and the same steep 3km walk uphill with water-laden pots.

There was more to the story. Water at this spring was limited. In the summer if she were unfortunate enough to arrive late, the stored water would be over and she would have to wait for half a day for the spring to replenish itself. To avoid this, she used to go to the spring at 3am, expecting a leopard to leap onto her back any moment. The three pots of water that were allowed per household needed to last her for drinking, washing and all possible domestic uses. There was no question of irrigation at all. Cattle needed to be driven far away till they found a watering hole with sufficient water to quench their thirst.

Saint Swearword (Curse) to the Village – (Saadhu Ka Shraap)

If that is not enough, she has also managed to escape a centuries-old curse of this village that long ago, a sadhu arrived. He asked a householder for a drink of water but was refused this hospitality. Angered by this, he cursed the village that all its water sources would dry up and the village would not have any more water.

Families living in the village that speck Almora district in Uttarakhand are at the mercy of the rain in summer time and preparing for only winters and this is the busiest time for women as they divide time between the home and their widely spread out terrace fields.

Sudha Ji in her farm
Sudha Ji in her farm at Gauna Village, Lamgarha, Almora.

Since 20-22 Years, there has been a huge change in her life. No longer does she make that arduous and frightening trip down a mountain in the middle of the night. No longer does her entire day go in merely carrying water. No longer are she and her husband at the mercy of the rain. They now practice protective irrigation, start their seedlings before the monsoon, and cultivate exotic, high value crops like the Kiwi Fruit. She is a member of a self-help group that manufactures and sells rhododendron syrup. So now you’ll think what happened, How all looks so relaxed now?

Sudha Gunavante and her husband “Bhuvan Gunavante” got an idea and they began to harvest rainwater. They followed two approaches to harvesting rainwater. One of these is harvesting rooftop rainwater. The other is harvesting surface runoff.

Rooftop rainwater harvesting collects water from the roof, through a system of horizontal channels and vertical down-take pipes and carries it to a closed tank. Water is stored here, close to the house and can be used for drinking and other domestic purposes. Other villages in the area also followed suit as well. However, the villagers have chosen to continue to use the spring water rather than the rainwater for drinking. Why? Because the precious rainwater is reserved for watering seedlings. This enables them to raise vegetable plants well before the monsoon, thus ensuring that the vegetables they produce receive the high prices possible early in the season.

Harvesting surface runoff involves channeling the water that runs across the land and diverting it into an open tank. These tanks are constructed by the villagers. First a rectangular pit- the size may vary according to the amount of water it will receive and the land available – is dug. The surface is made smooth with a mixture of clay and cow dung. A plastic sheet is laid over this. Finally, a dry stone wall is built to protect this sheet. Such a tank, if de-silted and maintained well can last for decades. These are mainly used for irrigation and for livestock. The popularity of these tanks proves their efficacy.

Irrigation tank
Irrigation tank on Sudha Ji farm in her village in Gauna.

Sudha Gunavante started with 2 tanks in 2003; a decade later, she boasts of 10 tanks on her land. There are 155 such rainwater harvesting tanks in Gauna and its neighboring villages now a days.

How much water can a roof yield?

Quite a lot. Let us assume that the size of a roof is 6m X 4m (a conservative estimate). In a normal year, which receives an average rainfall of 1500mm, an astounding 36 cubic meters or 36 thousand liters of water rolls down it. Sudha explained, not all this water can be collected and stored. Water from the first rains is allowed to flow away. This process known as the first flush cleans the roof. It is generally estimated that 80% of the rain that falls on a rooftop can be harvested.

This means that about 29,000 liters can be harvested from the rooftop in our example. Averaging out 40 liters per person per day to be an adequate amount of water for a person in a rural area, these 29,000 liters will suffice a couple like Sudha and Bhuvan for 363 days – or almost the entire year!

rainwater tank

The biggest beneficiaries of the rainwater harvesting initiative are the women of these villages. No longer do they have to make the arduous trek in order to fetch water. Not only has it reduced drudgery, but also prevented water conflicts, opened up means of livelihood generation and made agriculture profitable again.

Not over, there are lots of hurdles remain..!

Suddenly all changed, it’s been raining almost continuously for the last six months and this prolonged wet spell has thrown normal life out of gear – much of their local lentil and other crops have been destroyed while the fodder grass has not dried up enough to be stored.

However, despite the obvious difficulties, there’s one woman from Gauna village in Lamgarha block of Almora, who has turned her farm into a veritable hub of biodiversity.

She observes, “I remember when I had come to this village in 1980 after marriage, farming was the mainstay of most families. Unfortunately, the changing environment and weather has become a threat to our way of life. On my part I am determined to overcome this challenge.”

Help has come to Gunavante through the Central Himalayan Environment Association (CHEA), a non government organisation that assists mountain communities to achieve sustainable development by adapting to climate change.

According to Pankaj Tewari of CHEA, “In the hills, most agriculture in Uttarakhand is rain fed. So the seasonal variations that have impacted rainfall and snowfall are extremely worrying. It has affected soil fertility and hence the yield.

At CHEA we have been working intensively for sustainable livelihood development in various villages around Lamgarha and Sudha-ji has been an inspiration for everyone. She has successfully demonstrated how, given the right support, people can effectively adapt to climate change and transform their lives.”

Under the guidance of CHEA, she not only got the chance to fully understand what it was that was triggering climate change, but she was also introduced to the various government schemes that promote sustainable livelihood for hill folk, like cash crop cultivation, horticulture, floriculture and various non-farm activities like animal husbandry and bee-keeping.

Unassuming and ever smiling, Sudha Gunavante, 47, enjoys taking visitors around her home and land holding. After all, it is a perfectly run mixed farm – conventional grains are harvested seasonally along with a variety of vegetables, fruits and exotic flowers.

KIWI grown
High Paying Fruit KIWI grown in Sudha Ji’s Farm in Gauna, Uttarakhand

Additionally, she also rears livestock for dairy and keeps bees for honey, which she sells on demand. While Gunavante’s farm is doing well these days, it does not mean that she is oblivious to the dangers of climate change.

By Gunavante’s own admission, although she has always been a passionate environmentalist, becoming the able farmer she is today required effort.

She needed to acquire the necessary expertise. Initially, her heart had been set on becoming a teacher, a dream that she gave up after marriage. But keen on making a mark within the community, she finally got the chance to prove herself when, about a decade ago, she was chosen to head the Gauna Van Panchayat. Van Pachayats are village-level councils that are responsible for the day-to-day management of local civil forests.

Walking towards Gunavante’s home the first thing that one notices are the fruit trees that encircle the yard. “These were planted in 2002. I got the saplings from the horticulture department with CHEA’s help,” says the industrious woman, pointing towards the cluster of peach trees which, she proudly informs, have already yielded a crop for each of the last four years.

Then there are lemons, oranges, cucumber, colocasia (arvi), tomatoes, radish, French beans and corn growing on the farm. The surplus produce regularly makes its way to the mandi (Wholesale Market) in Almora, fetching her a decent income.

This season she sold radishes worth Rs 3,000-4,000, while the lemons went for Rs 5 a piece.

Besides these, flowers such as gladiolas, chrysanthemums and marigolds that grow in a small poly shed built just off the courtyard, also find a ready market, especially during the festival seasons. Walking past trees of kafal (wild berry), bhimal (fodder) and low hanging kiwi fruit creepers, one arrives at a tin-roofed open shed. This is the vermi-pit that provides Gunvante with all the organic manure she needs for her crops and has also become a source of substantial revenue.

Remarks Vijay Adhikari, Project Manager at CHEA, “Sudha-ji is one farmer who has taken full advantage of the government schemes. When we told her about vermi-composting she was eager to create a pit and became one of the first few farmers in the district to take up vermiculture.”

Adds Sudha Gunavante, “In 2009-10, I had sold vermi-compost at Rs 200-250 per kilogram in addition to earthworms to the government’s Aajeevika (National Rural Livelihood Mission) scheme. Even now I get buyers who pick up one to two quintals of compost at the rate of Rs 6,000.”

Vermi Compost Developed by Sudha Ji in Separate Place for Selling.

It was her willingness to experiment with alternate sources of income generation that led her to undertake animal husbandry and apiculture (bee keeping) as well.

Says Adhikari, “While most people have now switched to keeping buffalos and cows to make ends meets by selling milk – it is sold at Rs 18 per litre to private dairies – for Sudha-ji dairying simply adds to the revenue, which she ploughs back into the land.”

Sudha Gunavante – State’s Green Ambassador Award Winner.

From dawn to dusk Sudha Gunavante, who was conferred the State’s Green Ambassador Award in 2012 for her significant contribution towards biodiversity conservation, is a busy woman.

She says, “The life of hill women is extremely difficult and in families where the men don’t have permanent jobs they shoulder all burden as wives, mothers and even farmers. A farmer’s life is intrinsically connected to nature – too little or too much sun, rain or snowfall is always bad for the land.”

According to this successful woman, the time has come for farmers to take all the help they can get and adapt to newer, better ways of making farming feasible.

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