The ATCHA project (Accompanying The adaptation of irrigated agriculture to climate CHAnge) is a project (2017-21) funded by the French National Agency for Research ( Thanks to an observatory in Berambadi watershed, India, studied through successive projects, it brings together scientists of various origins (IISc-Bangalore, INRA…) and disciplines (biophysical, social sciences, economics) with policy makers (Sujala programme, Watershed Development Department, Gov. of Karnataka) as well as villagers. The dramatic groundwater decline in India raises two questions:

- Is groundwater irrigation sustainable ?

- Is it reducing or increasing inequality ?

Objectives :

  1. Objectives of the ATCHA project: Testing two scientific hypotheses:
  2. Managing groundwater sustainably must take into account interactions between biophysical and socio-economic drivers influencing farmer decisions
  3. integrated models and scenarios are boundary objects that can help, through participatory processes, bridge the gaps between the knowledge produced by scientists and local stakeholders.
  4. Additional objectives of this project :

The challenges for sustainable use of irrigation groundwater in India and semi-arid rural areas have to be identified in very various fields: geophysical, economic, social, political. We propose a new type of water governance with farming systems based on agroecology.


Three integrated types of methodology:

1.Understand processes in experimental watersheds (long term Critical Zone Observatory): piezometric follow up, remote sensing analysis…

2.Develop integrated models in three fields: assessing water resource (soil moisture/satellite imagery); understanding crop productivity vis-à-vis the triggers of soil, fertilization, water and prices; modelling decision making processes of farmers.

3.Co-build and assess scenarios with stakeholders, be they policy makers, officials or villagers, with household surveys followed by participative workshops.

IFP work is based on this last approach, considering the feedback by villagers and a reflexive evaluation of our results. The task of our Social Sciences Department is to develop a critical analysis of the dialogical approach that is being implemented between researchers in bio-physical sciences and farmers, concerning scenarios for adapting agriculture in the Berambadi basin (Karnataka), and to organize meetings with villagers. We are carrying out both conventional research and more participatory and facilitation activities, including workshops taking into account social segmentation between castes, genders and generations around issues of environmental justice.


There is a dramatic decline in groundwater availability due to mushrooming borewells in India. In the watershed under study, the eastern part of the region has gone back to rainfed agriculture – yet with different crops. The western part is facing the same progressive exhaustion of aquifers. Four hurdles highlight a lack of understanding between three stakeholders - scientists, farmers and policy makers:

  • the gap between the results of scientists / the perceptions of farmers
  • Aquifer not a common good resource because of the village structure
  • also because of ill-adapted legislation
  • government policies favour new borewells and free electricity.

Significance of the work for policy and practice

Our presentation shows the necessity of an integrated approach combining:

  • a social, cultural and economic approach at the local level focused on the concerned stakeholders, for favouring collective action in spite of social heterogeneity;
  • a better conversation between biophysical scientists and villagers, generating crossfertilization of their respective perceptions;
  • reshaping of agricultural and environmental policies for inducing a “common” vision of groundwater and reducing irrigation, through better prices guaranteed to rainfed crops and the waiving of subsidies benefitting irrigation.