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Water Demand Management for Improved Adaptation by Small Farmers in Semi-Arid India

Water Demand Management for Improved Adaptation by Small Farmers in Semi-Arid India

Program: Dow Distinguished Awards
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Photo by mrjn Photography on Unsplash

Team Members

James Erbaugh, Heather Huntington, Ajay Shenoy, and Hope Thompson


Persistent and widespread vulnerability characterizes the lives and livelihoods of millions of households in arid and semi-arid lands in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Improved knowledge on how adaptation can secure resilient and sustainable development is needed urgently because of continuing inaction on emissions reduction and the rising likelihood that climate change is already affecting social and ecological systems. In particular, better knowledge about how to ensure improvements in the livelihoods of vulnerable households and communities in marginal contexts without adversely affecting ecosystems is one of the most important challenges confronting development researchers and decision makers. The proposed research project represents a rigorous and innovative evaluation study to address this challenge. The study will focus on water demand management in the semi-arid region of Rajasthan in India to improve adaptation to climate change and variability. Its results are replicable and applicable across semi-arid and arid lands, including South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

The project is the joint effort of research investigators at the “School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE)” at the University of Michigan and our field partner in India, the “Foundation for Ecological Security (FES).” FES is implementing a large scale Watershed Development Project in more than 100,000 Ha., supported by India’s National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD). As part of the implementation of this project, University of Michigan researchers and FES will work together to determine the impact of the water demand management component of the larger watershed development project. The goal is to improve climate-resilient livelihood outcomes for poor households and communities in rain-fed regions of India and to use the findings from the project to assess the impact of water demand management in watershed development projects.

The watershed development project supports local user groups to use seasonal climate forecasts, crop water budgeting, affordable water-saving technologies and techniques for monitoring water levels to influence crop choices and adaptive planning processes regarding water demand management. We will utilize a randomized control trial (RCT) design to assess the impact of the project’s water demand management component, viewing it as a climate change adaptation strategy. As part of our joint work with FES, we will work in a subset of villages involved in the Watershed Development Project to examine the extent to which the project affects the following outcomes of interest among poor households and communities:

  • Improvement of livelihoods
  • Increased food security
  • Enhanced adaptive capacity
  • Reductions in water use
  • Higher local capacity for water management