India - harvesting the rain!
"If you quench Mother Earth's thirst, she will quench yours".
In the fresh food markets of Vadodara, a town in southern Gujarat, they sell fruit and fresh vegetables that comes from fields irrigated with neat industrial effluent that comes from the town's many chemical plants.Twenty million gallons of it flow down to the sea each day. Tens of thousands of farmers use it in about 40 villages around the town. One farmer told Fred Pearce (author of When The Rivers Run Dry, 2006), "The sellers mix the vegetables grown from the effluent with all the other fruit and vegetables. So we all eat it". Another farmer added: "You can get as much water as you want, when you want it. It's an assured supply of water, ulike the wells here". Nearby there is a canal built to carry water from from the newly dammed Narmada River. But while the chemical intoxicated water runs full, the canal hasbeen dry for some years. Corruption? Probably.
What else can the farmers do? Are there other water sources for the fields?
In earlier articles I pointed out what a crisis Indian farmers are in. The water from the wells is fast running out. Many farmers in Tamil Nadu have had to leave their land. And a lot of the water available is heavily polluted. The River Ganges, for instance, has dead bodies, chemical dyes, all sorts of stuff in it. Yet it is still regarded as sacred!
In the world today, seventy percent of all water taken from rivers and acquifers gets spread over 670 million acres of irrigated land. This grows a third of all world food. Well over a half of all the world's crops rely solely on the rain. And 21 million Indian farmers have bought water pumps to such out further water from the fast depleting reserves underground, while a million more of them are buying pumps each year. Farmers draw more water from the acquifers than the monsoons pour back over the fields each year! In some places, the wells already have run dry. Two hundred million Indian farmers are already facing a waterless future, says Fred Pearce. Some farmers and their families are leaving the land. And another 150,000 of Indian farmers commit suicide every year. Farmers can no longer simply give in to this water shortage.
First they must consider the enormous waste of all the water that gets away during the monsoon rains. Seventy percent of it merely flows out into the sea. They must finds ways to capture that. Then they have to change their ways: the utilisation of water on farms is hugely wasteful: they need to manage it more efficiently.
In the village of Rajsamadhiya, elsewhere in Gujarat, the desert like landscape of dessicated fields and empty wells has been transformed, thanks to the inspiration of a retired police officer. Now, there are trees everywhere in the village. Piles of mangoes and watermelons under theior shade. In the fields that grow wheat, vegetables and groundnuts, there are ponds of water; lots of them. Hadeja, the retired policeman,: "We have forty-five water collecting structures altogether. There is no more rain than before. We just use it better. We don't let it wash away anymore". Hadeja has persuaded the villagers to think about how they use it. Farmers no longer grow water guzzlers like sugarcane. "There is no point in catching more water if we only waste it". The ponds are arranged along the routes taken by the monsoon as it drains through the village. The villagers have designed them so that they slow down the rush of monsoon water and collect it along the way in each pond as the previous one fills up. Then it can seep through the soil to refill the acquifer. So the villagers now have twice as much water as they did before. Of course this is not new to India. They had thousands of these ponds and tanks before the British arrived and colonised India. But the Brits did not appreciate how crucial these structures were to local farmers. They failed to repair them so they fell into disuse, most of them for hundreds of years, until people like Hadja re-invented them! Across India there are over 140,000 tanks; some in use, others still abandoned. Tamil Nadu has the most: around 40,000 covering about 2.5 million acres. Kanataka has about 35,000. Each region has its own design. In the Thar Desert in north west India, people have made khadin, depressions in the deserts that wet the soil enough to plant wheat and chickpeas. Tushar Shah of the International Water Management Institute, in Gujurat, thinks that in Rajasthan there are 2500 square miles of land being recharged to capture the rains. In Karnataka, Fred Pearce met with a group who have dug 350 ponds across four valleys near the town of Adihalli. They now have more water in the wells and can grow crops throughout the year, with improved yields. And double or even quadruple their earlier incomes! Some believe that over 300,000 wells have so far 'sprung to life' again!
Sunita Narain, from the Centre for Science and the Environment, an well known active thorn in the sides of both governments and private organisations, says that the method can be used in cities like Delhi, to supply a third of its water needs. In Bangalore they have begun to rehabilitate the city's sixty ancient lakes. But cities: that is another story. People are beginning to talk of another revolution in farming in India. This time, it will be blue, not green. Some people estimate that around 20,000 villages are now harvesting the rain. That may not appear to be much compared with India's total of a million villages. But it is a great start.
Villagers have done all this on their own. There have been no goverment officials or politicians to take their cut!
If you quench Mother Earth's thirst, she will quench yours!