Home Leaders Speak Vaishali Iyer from Novartis India talks about their Watershed Project in Telangana

Vaishali Iyer from Novartis India talks about their Watershed Project in Telangana

Water crisis in Telangana is not something unknown. Be it for drinking purpose or for irrigation, the state reels under scarcity and things are only getting worse with climate change crisis. Considering the gravity of the ongoing water crisis in India’s youngest state that affects its 3.5 crore population every year, the Watershed Project was launched in 2021.
The project is being implemented by National Agro Foundation, a non-profit organisation and supported by Novartis, a global pharmaceutical organisation which aims to achieve water neutrality globally by 2030.
The Watershed Project is being run in the Sollakpally and Turkapally districts with the aim of maximising water conservation and efficient water utilisation. The watershed area is located near Hyderabad and is expected to generate 50 000 cubic meters of ‘harvested’ rainwater, the equivalent of the volume of water used in 1.4 million showers.
Vaishali Iyer, Country Head, Communications & Engagement and CSR, Novartis India opens up to The CSR Journal sharing details about the project.

1. Please tell us about Novartis’ Watershed Project in Telangana

At Novartis, we have a strong commitment to sustainable development. As a global company, we believe we have a great responsibility and an even greater opportunity to create positive social change. Globally, one of our ESG goals is to achieve water neutrality by 2030, a commitment that is a fundamental pillar of Corporate Social Responsibility strategy at Novartis in India.
The watershed development project in Telangana in collaboration with our implementation partner National Agro Foundation aims to create a long-lasting impact by improving access to water.
This innovative initiative follows a 360O model of sustainability using a four-pronged approach-
–Fulfilling the needs of the community by increasing the water supply through building water resources like ponds, dams and water tankers.
–Minimize water demand by teaching farmers sustainable and efficient water utilization techniques
–Encouraging Economic development through helping farmers maximize profits and providing microfinancing to women owned small businesses
–And finally, a focus on community wellbeing through clean drinking water, toilets, handwashing stations and improving the school infrastructure.
The project has been able to impact over 11000 lives, build 18 water structures to harvest and store rainwater and see an overall improvement in the livelihood of the community. Moreover, the project supports economic development by empowering farmers with knowledge and skills to maximize their agricultural productivity and income. By fostering entrepreneurship and encouraging women-owned small businesses through microfinancing, we contribute to sustainable economic growth and poverty alleviation.

2. The project is currently operational in which parts of Telangana and benefits how many villages? Where else do you plan to expand this?

The Watershed Project has made a significant impact in the Medak district of Telangana since its initiation in 2021. The project has brought about significant positive changes in the lives of the communities it has touched. Through the implementation of sustainable practices, beneficiaries have witnessed increased incomes, growing businesses, improved health outcomes, and enhanced educational facilities such as clean toilets and handwashing stations in schools. These improvements have resulted in better attendance and health for children in the community.
Building upon the successes and lessons learned, we embarked on a new endeavor in 2022, embracing the district of Yadadri Bhuvanagiri in Telangana. Through the scaling up and replication of the Watershed Project, we aim to extend its comprehensive sustainability model to more communities, thereby fostering improved livelihoods in rural areas.
We have been able to reach 12 villages and by expanding the reach of the Watershed Project, we strive to make an even more profound impact, uplifting rural communities and further contributing to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

3. What was the inspiration behind starting this initiative?

The Watershed Development Project in Telangana was initiated by Novartis India as part of our global mission to address the water scarcity crisis and work towards achieving water neutrality by 2030.
Through research, we identified that the Krishna River basin in Telangana, which serves as the water source for our water consumption at Genome Valley and our Novartis Knowledge Centre in Hyderabad, was home to many water-stressed communities relying on agriculture as their primary source of income. These communities were trapped in a vicious cycle where the lack of water resulted in income loss. We saw the opportunity to address this problem and bring about positive change in their lives.
Our commitment to communities, both today and in the future, was the inspiration behind the Watershed Development Project. Water is a fundamental and foundational aspect of humanity and health, and by undertaking this initiative, we aim to make a meaningful impact by providing sustainable solutions to the water challenges faced by these communities.

4. How much has been achieved under the Watershed Project to date?

The Watershed Project has achieved significant milestones to date. The project’s primary focus is on increasing water supply through the construction of various resources such as ponds, dams, and water tanks. As a result, approximately 2,000 families now have access to safe drinking water for their personal use and sustainable agriculture.
Furthermore, the project has provided training to farmers on efficient water utilisation techniques and reduced pesticide use, leading to a 20%-30% increase in crop intensity and at least a 10% improvement in farm incomes. These outcomes not only contribute to improved agricultural productivity but also promote carbon sequestration.
In addition to addressing water scarcity challenges, the project has emphasized the empowerment of women in the community. Women’s self-help groups (SHGs) and women-led businesses have been promoted through microfinancing solutions. So far, the SHG has disbursed INR 13 lakhs, enabling women to start new businesses or expand existing ones such as grocery shops, clothing stores, tailoring, and livestock rearing.
The project has also implemented infrastructure enhancements such as clean drinking water facilities, handwashing stations, toilets, biogas units, and solar streetlights. These amenities contribute to the overall sustainability and well-being of the community.

5. What else do you plan to achieve under this initiative?

Apart from working towards water neutrality, by replenishing the water source we use for our operations, the project takes a comprehensive approach to economic development of the community. It empowers farmers with the capability, tools, and techniques to optimize yield and increase profits, while also supporting women-owned small businesses through microfinancing. The goal is to create a self-sufficient and sustainable community, where individuals can thrive and lead healthier lives.
Recognising the importance of environmental preservation, the project also contributes to the overall ecosystem. The project promotes the adoption of efficient irrigation techniques like drip irrigation and encourages conservation agriculture practices to reduce water consumption and enhance soil health.
Planting trees actively aids in carbon sequestration and encourages flora and fauna biodiversity. This holistic approach ensures the project’s positive impact extends beyond economic development, encompassing environmental well-being as well.
Through this comprehensive approach, Novartis aims to make a meaningful impact on water conservation and support sustainable farming practices. By empowering communities and promoting water-efficient strategies, Novartis is working towards a more water-secure and environmentally sustainable future in Telangana.

6. How is Novartis working to also ensure the economic and social welfare of these villagers?

Building trust with our stakeholders is critical to our ability to deliver on our purpose. We believe that successful delivery of our environmental sustainability strategy will require leadership, innovation, investment, and change.
We, at Novartis, believe in approaching CSR from a long-term holistic perspective. The company’s initiatives are aimed at creating solutions to on-ground challenges faced by communities and building sustainable livelihoods to help mitigate generational poverty.
Apart from what I have shared in response to the earlier question, our sustainable water management practices for example, are designed to provide long-term benefits to communities by ensuring water conservation, improved access to clean water, and the promotion of sustainable agricultural practices.
The Watershed Development Project focuses on constructing rainwater harvesting infrastructure to improve water accessibility for agricultural, consumption, health, and hygiene purposes, which is vital for the livelihoods of communities.


Ahana Bhattacharya can be reached at ahana@thecsrjournal.in