Community-led pond restoration effort gives way to a fishery enterprise

Dear friends,

I am sharing a story from Bhainsamunda village in Odisha’s Jharsuguda district which embarked on a remarkable journey in September 2023. Under the aegis of the Village Development Committee (VDC) and supported by Gram Vikas, the village began transforming their communal pond into a thriving hub for community-owned fisheries.

Jai Narayan Kumura, a 41-year-old Bhainsamunda resident who wears the dual hats of a farmer and a teacher, shares, “Our village pond began to lose its vitality in the summer of 2000. It served us in different ways - from irrigating fields to washing clothes and bathing our cattle. Watching it slowly dry up was like witnessing the loss of our village lifeline.”

The village’s struggle to rejuvenate the pond saw many turns. Approaches to the MLA bore no fruit, and it was not until 2020 that the Bhainsamunda VDC, involving seven active Self Help Groups (SHGs), took a decisive step. They approached the Sarpanch, only to learn that the pond’s private ownership by three residents.

In a meeting in 2023, orchestrated by Gram Vikas, the VDC and SHG members gathered the entire village to address this challenge head-on. The VDC proposed a solution - the owners could donate the pond to the committee, enabling the mobilisation of funds for its restoration and establishing a fisheries enterprise. The potential of this enterprise to fuel the village’s development was palpable.

Lying as a wasted resource, the owners could not afford to restore it themselves; handing it over for the village’s betterment seemed like the right thing to do.

The community’s spirit soon turned into action. With a budget of ₹2,00,000 sanctioned under MGNREGS by the Sarpanch, 50 village residents, employed at a daily wage, they plunged into the task of restoring the pond. Over two weeks in May 2023, they deepened the pond to 15 feet, significantly more than its initial depth of 5 feet.

When the monsoon arrived, the pond, now a symbol of the village’s resilience, brimmed with life-giving water. Gram Vikas provided 1000 fingerlings to kickstart the fishery, marking the beginning of a sustainable livelihood venture for the community. The income from the fishery would support the villages’ Pipe Water Supply operations and other village development initiatives. The VDC could use the surplus income for future initiatives. It was a step towards self-reliance.

For residents like Upendra Kumura, a 38-year-old farmer with a 1.5-acre farm adjacent to the pond, the pond was not just a body of water but a lifeline. When the monsoon rains fill it up, the water will seep into the earth, recharging the groundwater beneath. This replenishment was vital as it kept the soil in the surrounding areas moist, which is crucial for growing crops. During harsh dry spells, when there are no rains, the pond becomes a lifeline - making way for people to draw water from it to irrigate their fields.