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Meet a Woman from Bundelkhand | Check-Dams and Irrigation |
Check-Dam Evaluation Study | Bundelkhand Region |
DA Activities in Bundelkhand

Bundelkhand Region

The Bundelkhand Region of central India is a semi-arid plateau that encompasses 12 districts of northern Madhya Pradesh (MP) and 5 districts of southern Uttar Pradesh (UP). It is located in the central Hindi belt south of the Yamuna river, between the fertile Gangetic plain stretching across northern UP and the highlands of central MP.

Topography and geology

Bundelkhand is an old landmass composed of horizontal rockbeds resting on a stable foundation. The landscape is rugged, featuring undulating terrain with low rocky outcrops, narrow valleys, and plains. Surface rocks are predominantly granite of the Lower Pre Cambrian/Archaen period. Some Dharwarian and Vindhayan rocks present in the region contain minerals of economic value. Sandstone, shales and limestone of high quality, along with Dyhes, Sills and the famous pink Archaean gneiss rocks, are also found in places.

Natural vegetation and soil

The Bundelkhand region was densely forested until the late 18th century. After the turn of the century, rising demands for wood and agricultural expansion led to increasing levels of deforestation. Post independence population growth and the emergence of the green revolution brought even larger tracts of land under the plough and further increased wood-based energy needs. These factors, combined with poor land management and ruthless government approved commercial logging, have drastically reduced forested area in the region. Today, only small patches of dry miscellaneous and thorn forests comprised of dhak, teak, mahua chiranji, khardai, dhau, khair, thar trees remain. Vegetation primarily consists of scrub forest (siari, katai, gunj, bel, ghout trees) and scrub brush, much of it open canopy with large tracts of land classified as "wastelands." Prevailing soil types are a mix of black and red; the latter being relatively recently formed, gravely and shallow in depth, and thus unable to retain moisture well. Much of the region suffers from acute ecological degradation due to top soil erosion and deforestation, leading to low productivity of the land. Soil erosion is a persistent problem that is aggravated by the hilly landscape, high winds and the poor quality of the soils, leading to the widespread growth of gullies.


The Bundelkhand Region is marked by extremes of temperature, reaching the mid to upper 40s centigrade during the summer months and dropping as low as 1 degree centigrade in winter. During the summer season, high temperatures in the plain cause low pressure areas that induce movement of the monsoon. The temperature begins to rise in February and peaks in May-June. Hot breezes known locally as loo are common during this period.

The rainfall distribution pattern is irregular, with approximately 90% of all rainfall in the region caused by the monsoon, falling from June to October. Average rainfall per year is 800-900mm but most is lost to runoff. July and August are the months of maximum rainfall, while November and April are the driest months of the year. The scant winter rainfall is useful for the cultivation of ‘rabi’ crops, but it is usually inadequate without access to supplementary irrigation sources.

Population and human development


The Bundelkhand region is characterized by some of the lowest levels of per capita income and human development in the country. Literacy levels are poor, especially among women, and infant mortality is relatively high. Local inhabitants rely primarily on subsistence rainfed single crop agriculture and small-scale livestock production for their livelihood, with wheat, grams and oil seeds the predominant crops. Population density in the region largely correlates with such factors as soil types, natural vegetation, industrialization, and urbanization. In rural areas, rising population has led to fragmentation of family land holdings. Human pressures on the existing natural resource base are compounded by livestock pressures: the human to cattle (or livestock) ratio is relatively high, almost 1:1, compared with a national ratio of 1:.45.. In addition, the growth of private land ownership and past environmental mismanagement of lands have led to the rapid decline of forest cover, reducing traditional sources of fuel, fodder and food. These factors, combined with limited rainfall and fresh water resources, have resulted in low agricultural productivity. Many families are no longer able to meet their subsistence needs. Temporary and long-term out-migration of males from rural villages in search of alternative sources of livelihood has become increasingly common.

Water Scarcity in the Region

Water sources and availability

Throughout most of the year the residents of Bundelkhand experience acute scarcity of water for agricultural and domestic use. Water sources are varied and often seasonal, ranging from ponds, tanks, lakes and streams to open wells, bore wells and irrigation canals radiating out from large-scale dams. Most agriculture is single-crop rainfed with supplementary water from private open irrigation wells. Thus, large numbers of farmers are highly dependent on the monsoon rains to recharge these wells.

Traditional water harvesting structures

Irrigated agriculture has existed beside dry and rainfed agriculture and livestock farming in India for centuries. The nature of Indian rainfall -- short spells of heavy rain during the two to three months of the monsoon -- has strongly influenced agricultural practices across the country, especially water management for irrigation. Brief but intense spells of rain result in high levels of runoff and soil erosion, less percolation of water into the soil, and occassionally flash floods. In response to this climatic pattern, Indians have developed a rich tradition of using water harvesting structures to store rainwater for the non-monsoon months, mostly in thousands of small reservoirs; and to regenerate groundwater resources. Irrespective of their primary purpose, all the traditional water storage methods indirectly improve soil moisture and induce percolation of water to aquifers.

There are three main classes of traditional irrigation systems:

  1. reservoirs, primarily surface tanks and ponds;
  2. innundation irrigation systems; and
  3. in-situ storage facilities.

Water reservoirs take many forms across the Indian landscape. Prior to independence, reservoirs were primarily fed by rainwater runoff channels or diverted streams and rivers using gravity for propulsion. In areas of very scant rainfall, such as Western India, local people evolved a number of ingenious methods of storing water for irrigation including sub-surface tanks, roof water harvesting systems, step wells, tanks, ponds, and lakes. Some of these lakes were large enough to store water from 18 months to 2 years, an extremely important feature given the high variability in local rainfall leading to periodic droughts. Tanks, usually formed by curved earthen embankments built across channels of runoff water, were commonly used in the South. They have the added benefit of helping to conserve the soil. In Bihar, the ahar, a combination tank/innundation system often built in a series, was widespread.

Other traditional reservoirs were developed specifically to help recharge groundwater resources. The rapat, developed in Rajasthan and also used in Maharashtra, is a form of percolation tank that consists of bunds, or embankments, made of masonry or earth having a life span of five to twenty years. Rapats were generally intended to charge wells from three to five kilometers downstream and were built on sandy or rocky soils that allowed for good percolation. In Maharashtra, the number of wells increased five or six times after the construction of percolation tanks. In general, some of the problems faced with rapats and other open surface reservoirs include: silting (small rapats), evaporation, submergence of cultivable land, and breaching of the bund.

Rain water has also traditionally been stored in the fields where crops are to be grown by constructing high bunds on all four sides. With innundation irrigation systems, water (from the monsoon or rivers) is held in the fields until the land is dry and it is sowing time, when it is then let out. No watering is needed for the crops after that time, although rainwater acts as a supplement. This system only works on relatively flat land with heavy black clay soil. It is a very old method of capturing water and saturating the land, and is also referred to as flood/submergence irrigation, haveli systems, bundhiesorkhadin. Innundation was commonly used in the in parts of Rajasthan and the Narmada Valley of MP, where the bundhies were often built in a series or chain to form an integrated network. In comparison, in-situ irrigation systems also store water in the fields using bunds and help it infiltrate the soil, but cultivation and submergence occur simultaneously.

The small scale adaptive measures for storing water highlighted above have long helped to counter some of the adverse effects of the monsoon rains by allowing for more infiltration of water into the soil, helping to increase soil moisture and vegetation, reducing erosion and possibly reducing damage from flash floods.

Meet a Woman from Bundelkhand | Check-Dams and Irrigation |
Check-Dam Evaluation Study | Bundelkhand Region |
DA Activities in Bundelkhand

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