Participatory Management and Sustainable Use of Groundwater: A Review of the Andhra Pradesh Farmer-Managed Groundwater Systems Project in India

GRIPP Case Profile - Issue 05

  • V. Ratna Reddy Director at Livelihoods and Natural Resource Management Institute (LNRMI), Hyderabad, India
  • Paul Pavelic Senior Researcher - Hydrogeology at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Vientiane, Lao PDR
  • M. Srinivasa Reddy Assistant Professor at the Centre for Economic and Social Studies, Hyderabad, India


In arid and semiarid environments, livelihoods based on irrigated agriculture are typically dependent on groundwater. Despite being a common-pool resource, groundwater development is primarily in the hands of private individuals, because groundwater rights are often linked to land rights, as in the case of India. As a result of this and the capital investment needed, groundwater development is undertaken by wealthier farming households with the adverse impacts of groundwater overexploitation often borne by small and marginal farmers, because they cannot afford to drill deeper, if they have wells, as groundwater levels drop, especially in areas occupied by hard rock aquifers.

Until recently, no concrete efforts were made in India to bring groundwater under an appropriate system of management. With rapidly increasing groundwater use and mounting signs of widespread depletion, state policy interventions have attempted to better manage the resource. The policy advances vary across different states depending on their status of groundwater development and the socioeconomic and policy context. Despite the formal approaches and methods used to restore groundwater levels, the progress has been limited primarily due to the lack of enforcement. Where successful, the scalability of these efforts depends highly on the socioeconomic conditions and political environment.

The failure of formal regulatory approaches has led India to experiment with informal, participatory groundwater management (PGM) initiatives over recent decades. Various participatory and community-based groundwater management interventions have been tried in different parts of India. Although most of these are small-scale initiatives, some state governments in India are taking a keen interest in supporting and scaling up these initiatives.

The fifth issue in the Case Profile Series, produced by the Groundwater Solutions Initiative for Policy and Practice (GRIPP), assesses whether the proactive involvement of rural communities in the management of groundwater positively contributes towards sustainable resource use. The assessment uses the long term (2003-2013) Andhra Pradesh Farmer-Managed Groundwater Systems (APFAMGS) project in India as a case study. Implemented across seven districts, the assessment is based on a critical review and synthesis of existing literature and complementary field visits conducted five years after project closure. APFAMGS worked towards creating awareness and bringing about behavioral change to achieve sustainable groundwater use, primarily for irrigation. The approach focused on knowledge transfer and capacity building to set up participatory processes conducive to informal management measures, and technologies supporting participatory hydrological monitoring and crop water budgeting. In addition, awareness creation in relation to demand as well as supply side management options was a key intervention.

The analysis suggests that APFAMGS has helped in filling the knowledge and information gaps on groundwater resources among local farming communities. Some degree of long-term reduction in groundwater pumping was observed, but the attribution to the project is not clear, and effects on reducing groundwater level declines may be limited and localized. The APFAMGS approach of PGM fell short in terms of equity considerations, with implications for the institutional sustainability of the approach. The study provides policy guidance for adopting more inclusive PGM-based institutions on a wider scale.

GRIPP Case Profile Series