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Indigenous Methods

Indigenous methods play a key role in water conservation and protection. Traditional, indigenous practices have sustained populations while respecting the natural environment. They are a source of inspiration when looking to protect our water sources. Below are some successful examples of indigenous methods from varying geographical locations in India.  

Bamboo Drip Irrigation in Meghalaya

In Meghalaya, India, bamboo drip irrigation is a system that has been successful for 200 years. It involves using pipes made of bamboo to irrigate plantations and works well for the rocky terrain and steep slopes. This system utilizes 20-80 liters of water which travels down the bamboo pipes into the fields. The water is outputted at 20-80 drops per minute which is very beneficial for crops such as betel leaf and black pepper.  This practice, invented by tribal farmers in northeast India, continues to be extremely successful in the state and has inspired similar systems throughout the globe. 


Credits: @DialogueSamvaad on Twitter

Zabo Water Conservation

in Kikruma

This indigenous practice dates back centuries and is practiced in Kikruma, a village in the Phek district of Nagaland. "Zabo" means impounding water and it involves using rainwater that runs off from mountains. It combines rainwater harvesting, forestry, and animal care. Forests are preserved on top of the hills to catch the rainwater, which then is brought through channels to small ponds. The water then passes through cattle yards and carries the urine and manure of the cattle, then goes into the paddy fields. The urine and manure are nutritionally beneficial for the soil. Fish also grow in these paddy fields, allowing for an additional benefit. The pond bunds grow various medicinal plants and herbs. 

Watch a Kirkuma resident explain the system! 


Credit: The Third Pole 

Eri (Tanks) of Tamil Nadu

This system is one of the oldest water conservation practices in India, dating back centuries prior to British intervention. Over a third of irrigation in the state of Tamil Nadu is made possible by the use of eris, which are tanks. Some tanks are "system eris", meaning they are filled by using water that is diverted from river waters during monsoon season. Other eris are simply filled when it rains. Tanks are interconnected in order to ensure that neighboring villages further from the water source get access to water and to balance the water supply. Eris act as natural flood-control systems, prevent runoff and soil erosion during heavy rain, and recharge the groundwater.

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Credit: India Water Portal

Johads of Rajasthan,
Haryana, Punjab, and
Western Uttar Pradesh

Prior to British intervention, johads were traditional structures for rejuvenating groundwater. In the 1980s, Rajendra Singth, also known as the "Water Man of Rajasthan" called to bring back these indigenous structures. The rebuilding of johads in Rajasthan allowed for the River Ruparel to come back to life after being dry for decades. Johads are small check dams built in areas with high elevation on three sides.


Credit: Shree Padre

This area is excavated, and the excavated material is used to build the fourth wall. Johads can be connected together as well to prevent structural damage. Today, there are over 4,500 johads in Alwar, Rajasthan alone.  The emphasis on community support and indigenous wisdom is reviving johads throughout the states. 

In 2019, the Haryana government released a plan to rejuvenate 16,400 johads in the state. They continue to be successful structures throughout various Indian states. 

Ahar-pynes are indigenous to South Bihar and are floodwater harvesting systems.  Ahar-pynes date back to the Magadh dynasty about 5,000 years ago and are still practiced mainly in the Gaya district of South Bihar (as well in other districts).  The system consists of "ahars" and "pynes", which work to support each other. An ahar is a catchment basin built to store harvested water with embankments on three sides. Pynes are diversion channels created to carry this rainwater from the river into the ahars. Ahar-pyne systems are what made caddy cultivation possible in Bihar. 

Ahar-Pynes of

South Bihar 

Ahar Pyne system in Gaya.jpeg

Credit: Hindi Water Portal 


Webpage written by: Tehreem Qureshi

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