Community-Led Sustainable Management The Digital Age

~ By Skand Agarwal

The ‘Southbound Resilience Webinar’ series and this blog is done in collaboration with WOTR and W-CReS, and supported by the Honeywell Hometown Solutions India Foundation (HHSIF).

If you’re able to fill your bottle with clean drinking water at any given time of the day, clearly you are not amongst the 163 million Indians with no access to this privilege.

India is one of the most water-stressed countries in the world which is perpetually running the race to secure safe and clean drinking water for 1.5 billion of its citizens (almost 18 percent of the world’s population). Data from the agriculture department highlighted that this year Maharashtra only received 40% of the usual rainfall in August, with 11 districts receiving 32 to 44% less rain overall from June to the end of August.

A well located in rural Maharashtra with notably depleted water levels

About 70% of rural households in the country rely on agriculture as their main source of income, and 70% of those are rain-fed, ergo directly dependent on monsoon rainfall. While we have been facing water scarcity for decades as a consequence of unsustainable practices, the current changing climate is further exacerbating the precarious situation. Changes in rainfall patterns, increased frequency of prolonged droughts, decrease in overall rainfall, and heatwaves are some of the impacts felt by the most vulnerable communities in rural India. This has entailed severe loss of livelihoods, agricultural productivity, and degradation of ecosystems plunging already poor communities into abject poverty.

A farmer from Akole, Ahmednagar district, Maharashtra

Therefore, ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) – an approach that takes ecosystem services and biodiversity as a part of the overall adaptation strategy – becomes an important application to help the most vulnerable to holistically adapt to climate change.

Keeping this in purview, a webinar series called ‘The Southbound Resilience Webinars: Water Governance for Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA)’ brought together practitioners and experts to discuss the opportunities and challenges in instituting EbA practices with local stakeholders. The presentations and discussions during the webinar held on Tuesday 22nd August, included speakers from Gram Gaurav Pratishthan, the Society for Promoting Participative Ecosystem Management (SOPPECOM), and WOTR (Watershed Organisation Trust).

The Sourthbound Resilience Webinar - 3




Kickstarting the webinar, Arjuna Srinidhi, national anchor for ECOBARI, explained the relevance of the webinar series saying, “We are a platform for sharing knowledge, resources, and good practices related to EbA. Fortunately, there are several good practices and evidence-based learning available through the remarkable work of various organisations all over the country. The Southbound Resilience webinars provide the opportunity for those working on EbA to share their experiences, discuss how to improve EbA compliance and help us leverage these insights to enhance climate resilience of vulnerable communities.”

Screengrab from the webinar


Dr. Eshwer Kale, an expert in water policy and governance and a thematic lead at W-CReS, set the context by outlining the significance of water as an essential connector for various ecosystems. “We need to work together as one ecosystem to find innovative solutions to sustainably conserve and manage water”, said Eshwer. Following that, Dr. Sonali and Dr. Neha were welcomed to present their unique case studies of community-led water management and the use of digital tools in water conservation.

Dr. Sonali Shinde, Managing Trustee of Gram Gaurav Pratishthan, introduced an ingenious model of ‘Pani Panchayat’ that started as a movement to communally manage water in the mid-1970s. The model is based on the ethos of ‘equitable access and participatory governance’ that pushes a community to come together on a table to end water monopolisation, and manage and conserve it sustainably.


Screengrab from the webinar


Dr Neha took the presentations forward and showcased how new-age digital tools can complement the farmers in gauging soil moisture, groundwater level, and other important components to practise agriculture responsibly and effectively. Her case studies evaluated various initiatives to understand how local institutions use digital tools in participatory water monitoring and budgeting, and water-sensitive crop planning.



  • The Pani Panchayat model pioneered by Gram Gaurav Pratishthan stands out as a beacon for community-driven governance of essential natural resources. Given the grim backdrop of escalating water scarcity, adopting such localised, inclusive governance is paramount.
  • Advanced digital tools, encompassing AI, RS-GIS, Drone Surveys, Composite Landscape Assessment and Restoration Tool (CLART), and Groundwater Management Tool (GMT) play a pivotal role in steering sustainable water governance. Collaborating closely with farmers, these tools offer invaluable insights into groundwater levels, soil metrics, and much more.
  • Holistic water management necessitates the collective effort of all stakeholders. It’s about striking a balance between conservation, suitable crop selection, efficient water use, and resource supply.


When asked how to replicate these initiatives, Dr Sonali Shinde said, “We need more green jobs, you know, people who are educated in this watershed development program, there is a lack of people at the ground level, grassroots level and even the government officials staff is very less for the region, what we see now is one person is managing many villages or tehsils.”

One of the participants also asked about the sensitivity of data collection, security, and confidentiality, to which Dr. Neha answered, “Data belongs to the community. [As far as] the intervention is concerned, they just have basic Google Forms, which take in the information of the farmer, such as the name, crop and area they are growing it on. [All this information] is gathered by Bhujal Jankaar, who belongs to the village and is from the community itself. So it’s kind of a closed group.”


We need to remember that as much as the world itself is one ecosystem, it is made up of an uncountable number of smaller ecosystems. Everything within these ecosystems is interconnected and interdependent. Pani Panchayat is an exemplary example of working together and working with nature to efficiently conserve and manage water even in a drought-prone region. Similarly, the examples highlighted by SOPPECOM have shown that the responsible use of tailored new-age digital tools can aid farmers in making informed decisions and increasing profits while sustainably using natural resources.

But despite these excellent initiatives leaving exceptional results in targeted communities, they are still too few and isolated to bring a change to such a large ecosystem. For that, we need more organisations practising ecosystem-based adaptation – protecting and governing them efficiently. The advent of climate change in our day-to-day lives demands us to adapt, govern, and protect our ecosystem together as one.

 ECOBARI’s webinars strive to gather and disseminate these lessons for a brighter, resilient future. The ‘Southbound Resilience Webinar’ series is organised in collaboration with WOTR and W-CReS, and supported by Honeywell Hometown Solutions India Foundation (HHSIF).



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