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Watershed Development in India

Economic Valuation and Adaptation Considerations

Watershed development, an ecosystem-based approach for development of rain-fed regions in India, is gaining traction and political support, but how is it contributing to poverty reduction, food security, and climate change adaptation? This paper examines how economic valuation can improve our understanding of watershed development and how to overcome challenges related to data collection, valuing direct and indirect benefits, and climate change adaptation. These considerations are explored through a partnership effort with the India-based NGO, the Watershed Organisation Trust, to conduct a benefit-cost analysis of their watershed development project in Maharashtra and examine their recent Climate Change Adaptation Project.

Key Findings

Executive Summary

Watershed Development (WSD) in India has been a part of the national approach to improve agricultural production and alleviate poverty in rainfed regions since the 1970s. Watershed Development programs aim to restore degraded watersheds in rainfed regions to increase their capacity to capture and store rainwater, reduce soil erosion, and improve soil nutrient and carbon content so they can produce greater agricultural yields and other benefits. As the majority of India’s rural poor live in these regions and are dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods and sustenance, improvements in agricultural yields improve human welfare while simultaneously improving national food security.

While WSD receives a significant amount of government attention and funding, there is not a clear understanding among practitioners of the overall effectiveness of WSD programs in meeting the objectives of food security and poverty alleviation. There is also little concrete evidence of how revitalized ecosystems might improve resilience to climate change. A reason behind this lack of understanding is that data collection and evaluation efforts for WSD have lacked rigor and consistency between WSD implementing and administrative agencies. Additionally, evaluations of WSD have tended to focus on describing changes in key indicators and providing project narratives, and as a result, have not provided a clear picture of the economic, social, and environmental benefits for WSD beneficiaries.

This paper argues that there is a clear need for more systematic economic valuation of WSD initiatives to better prioritize government funding and WSD guidelines, foster greater awareness of the benefits of ecosystem restoration for food security and poverty alleviation, and improve the planning and implementation of projects. Economic valuation is a useful tool that assigns monetary values to benefits of WSD, including social and environmental benefits. Economic valuation can contribute to improved WSD decision-making, awareness, and planning, by allowing comparison of project costs and benefits through decision support tools like benefit-cost analysis.

In 2012, the World Resources Institute (WRI) partnered with a WSD implementing agency, the Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR), to conduct an economic valuation of one of its WSD projects using benefit-cost analysis (BCA) and review their recent Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) Project. WOTR is an NGO based in Pune, India, that has been implementing WSD projects since 1993. It is one of the first WSD organizations to develop a CCA strategy in India. The objective of this partnership was to better understand the need for economic valuation and related data collection and analysis challenges, as well as to foster an understanding of CCA interventions. This paper provides a history of WSD and evaluation measures and challenges. We also present methods and results from our BCA of a WOTR-implemented participatory WSD project located in Maharashtra and highlight our data collection challenges. We then provide an overview of WOTR’s CCA Project, which was initiated in 2009 and has been implemented in nearly 50 villages in three states, and discuss related valuation considerations and recommendations.

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