He was taught the importance of conserving water at the tender age of six. Born to a farmer father, he learnt how to harvest rainwater the traditional way quite early in life. Today, he’s an ex-mechanical engineer, who helps struggling farmers realise a profitable yield year round, regardless of flood or famine. How does he to do that? Well, here’s Ashoka Fellow Ayyappa Masagi, founder of Water Literacy Foundation, on what it takes to be a ‘water warrior’.
“I realised the importance of water at the young age of six.”
I was born and brought up in Nagaral Village in Gadag District of North Karnataka, a severely drought-prone area. When I was 6, my mother used to take me along with her to fetch water from a cave-like water hole that only children could fit into. The hardships they faced made me realise the importance of water when I was just a child.
“I wanted to show that crops could be grown regardless of rain, flood or famine.”
Despite our poverty, and against my father’s will, I continued with my studies, with a little help from my mother, who sold her gold for my education. I completed my diploma in Mechanical Engineering and joined BEML, as a Mechanical Engineer. After this, I joined Larsen & Toubro where I worked for over 23 years.
As a farmer’s son and an engineer, my dream was to apply science and technology to aid rural development. While still working with L & T, I purchased 6 acres of land in Veerapur village in Gadag District. I transformed this into a research and development site. I wanted to prove to everyone that rain forest crops like coffee, rubber etc can be grown in the Deccan plateau, popularly known as ‘Bayalu Seeme.’ I also wanted to show that more crops could be grown regardless of rain, flood or famine.
“I had water when I least needed it, and no water when I needed it the most.”
The first two years of farming were highly successful due to regular rains. However, in the subsequent years, North Karnataka faced a severe drought and my crops dried up. Undeterred by this minor setback, I continued farming. But, to my dismay, the severe flood that occurred the following year not only destroyed crops but engulfed the entire farm. I even had to take shelter on a tree for an entire night. Two years of drought followed by flood; I had water when I least needed it, and no water when I needed it the most. Seeing positives even in the negative, I thought to myself, “Why not conserve this rainwater to balance the difference and save farmers’ lives and crops and in general?” In effect, why not make India a water-efficient nation?
“Borewell recharging was my answer to how to efficiently harvest rain water.”
This life-changing situation, led me to research various advanced water conservation techniques and meet with water experts like Anna Hazareji and Rajendra Singhji. Finally, I innovated upon borewell recharging techniques, roof rainwater harvesting and other agricultural-related systems. Borewell recharging became an answer to how one could efficiently harvest every possible drop of rainwater and send it directly to the ground water table.
Powered by borewell recharging and non-irrigational agricultural techniques, I obtained assured crops year after year. This success was just the beginning.
“I could not strike a balance between my job at L&T, family and my social service.”
I was working as a one-man army, and called myself a ‘water warrior.’ I helped farmers with non-irrigational agricultural practices, and urban residents with rooftop rainwater harvesting and borewell recharging. As more people started approaching me for help in this regard, I could not strike a balance between my job at L & T, family and my social service. I chose to dedicate my life to making India a water-efficient nation.
“Representatives of Ashoka gave me a fellowship to continue my mission.”
My biggest success came in the form of a project at Ardeshanahalli village near Doddaballapur near Bangalore. Prior to my intervention, the water table within a 2 km radius had been contaminated. When I was offered the challenge and opportunity to address this issue by Oxfam lndia, I knew that only rainwater harvesting and borewell recharging would dilute the contamination. I implemented the project, which miraculously converted the contaminated water into a potable form in a very short span of time.
This project was so successful and famous that Magsaysay Award Winner, Rajendra Singhji came down from Rajasthan to witness the impact. The next day, after the seminar, representatives of Ashoka expressed their interest in giving me an Ashoka Fellowship to continue this mission. They financially supported me by paying me Rs 30,000 per month for 3 years. This helped a lot in taking care of my kids’ education and other family commitments.
“Water is not a commodity, but a resource.”
Over a period of time, Ashoka organisation felt that I could reach more people if I started an NGO. They gave me all the requisite training and enabled me to start Water Literacy Foundation (WLF) in 2005. WLF’s goal is to make India a water-efficient nation. Water is not a commodity but a resource just like oxygen, which every human being should enjoy as a birthright.
“Knowingly or unknowingly, water is wasted everyday due to water illiteracy.”
Yes, water illiteracy. 95% of the population does not know of ways to efficiently conserve water.
“I do not want farmers to just remain farmers; they should become water warriors by learning and implementing water conservation techniques.”
Farmers who feed the nation are the worst affected by droughts and floods every year. I appeal to every farmer to not lose hope on farming. If farmers learn water and soil management, crop yield will be consistent regardless of flood or famine. Farmers should construct more agri ponds, lakes, borewell / openwell recharging systems, and use more non-irrigational agricultural systems like plastic mulching, drip irrigation, patta bunding, compartment bundings, soak pits and soak trenches.
Things you can do to conserve water
· Use water in a glass while brushing your teeth instead of a running tap.
· Use a big bucket of water to wash utensils rather than washing them under a running tap.
· Without any delay, get the plumber to fix leaky taps
· Use a bucket to wash your vehicles instead of a hose
· While washing hands, turn the tap off when you lather and rinse.
· Use a bowl of water while shaving.
· Use a sink of shallow depth; you will surely run the tap water on low pressure, as you wouldn’t like water to splash on to your clothes.
· Washings machines should be run on full load.