AMBIKAPUR, Chhattisgarh, India — Though it is located just 336 kilometers (209 miles) north of Raipur, Chhattisgarh’s bustling capital, it takes either a hard drive or an overnight train ride to reach this city of spice and crowds. Further on, 40 kilometers (25 miles) down a narrow heaving road of cracking asphalt, a high ridge of rock and forest lead west to Khondla Village.
Though official India is slow to recognize it, the path to this huge nation’s successful modernization leads through villages like Khondla.
During the last two years, BAIF (Bharatiya Agro Industries Foundation) — a respected Indian non-profit that specializes in rural development and was founded in 1967 by an associate of Mahatma Ghandi — has worked with Khondla’s rice farmers to design and develop an elegant, low-cost irrigation and water-conservation project. With a goal of recharging the area’s groundwater reservoirs, which local farmers say have been declining in recent years, the project has so far led to significantly larger harvests using check dams, small ponds, shallow channels, and gravity to capture the rainfall that pours off the surrounding ridge and distributing it to the village’s rice paddies.
One significant benefit is that Khondla’s farmers earn cash wages to build and manage the project. Another benefit is that farm incomes have grown with the increased yields and larger rice harvests.
Vjiyar Singh, the 45-year-old village president and a rice farmer who has spent all his life in Khondla, summed up the project, now in its third season, this way: “I get the opportunity to work on the field and get money from the field. The crop increased, so it’s good.”
In many ways, India is a study in cognitive dissonance, a fierce and frustrating struggle between what is really working in the country — especially in India’s 400,000 villages, like Khondla — and the mega-costly and complex industrial modernization that the national government’s leaders insist is the best path for the world’s second most populous nation. In other words, more than just 1,100 kilometers (700 miles) separate Khondla and New Delhi, India’s capital.