Repository logo

The Potential of Watershed Development for Enhancing Agricultural Livelihood: Three Essays from the Semi-arid Regions of India



Change log


Bhangaonkar, Rekha Avinash 


The Watershed Development Programme has gained growing support among development policy planners since the 1980s in India. This programme is designed to facilitate sustainable rural development by building irrigation capacity of the, otherwise, rainfed agricultural regions. Irrigation capacity is built via the adoption of various soil and water conservation measures, which then facilitate recharge of groundwater tables within an identified micro-watershed (typically consisting of one or two village communities). The recharged groundwater table becomes the natural resource base from which farming households draw water for irrigation by investing in wells or other such assets.

The management of micro-watersheds are based on the principles of community based natural resource management. However, the irrigation access (wells) to this common pool resource of groundwater is privately and individually owned which deters effective monitoring of resource use through collective action.

This thesis is built on Ostrom’s sustainability of socio-ecological systems (SES) framework and uses a three-essay format. Each essay uses econometric techniques in an attempt to identify particular factors that enable self-organizing ability of communities dependent on groundwater-based irrigation system for generating better livelihoods. The fieldwork was conducted in three villages belonging to the semi-arid districts of Ahmednagar and Jalna in the state of Maharashtra. Quantitative and some qualitative data was collected from nearly 670 households through household surveys.

The thesis is organised as three core essays and three supporting chapters. Chapter 1 provides a background to WDP in India and sets the context for the research questions. Chapter 2 presents the literature survey and provides the rationale for choosing SES framework over sustainable livelihoods. It also discusses the broader research methodology. At the end, chapter 3 includes a consolidation of inferences drawn from each of the three essays, and identifies their potential applications and future research direction.

The three essays address the research questions raised in this thesis. The first essay analyses the role that knowledge of the resource system (micro-watershed) among resource users, plays in modifying individual farmer’s irrigation demand (modelled as crop choice). Two watershed communities located on either side of the ridge line of the watershed are compared. The second essay analyses the role that social capital plays in encouraging self-organization in the community. Social capital is modelled as social betweenness scores calculated by applying Social Network Analysis. A comparison between two villages located in two districts belonging to two different rainfall zones is made. The third essay conceptualizes ‘water stack’ (collection of irrigation access points) that a farming household owns. The relation between the water stack of the households and the resource use norms in the community is analysed. A comparative analysis between all the three villages is made in this essay.

Knowledge of the resource system, social capital and continued support from the agricultural extension agency were found to encourage self-organization and enforcement of resource use norms, resulting in good health of the micro-watershed system.





Fennell, Shailaja


Commons, Micro-watershed, Groundwater, Socio-Ecological Systems, Collective Action, Sustainability, Social Networks, Knowledge, Water stack, Livelihoods


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Fully funded by the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission