Save Traditions. Save the Farmers.
The season of horror is here again. The unseasonably dry June and July have triggered off a spate of farmer suicides, this year too. So The Indian farmers continue to remain helplessly at the mercy of the whimsical monsoons? Can this terrible trend be stemmed?
Turning a blind eye? Maybe.
The root of the evil is, yes ,you have guessed it, Climate Change. And as you know, environmental think tanks, across the planet are craning their neck out, looking for solutions. But are they forgetting to look at what lies right under their nose? The answer rests in a ‘YES’ and a ‘NO’.
Though more ‘NO’ than ‘YES’ In a Yes-like situation, a climate bill in the US ouse of Representatives is making moves to reward some of its eco-friendly farmers. the US agriculture department will pick and choose farmers who planted trees or took steps to control greenhouse gases. It will also highlight projects by farmers and ranchers who helped lock carbon into the soil by reduced tillage or planting trees.
A no no for us?
That is them. What about us?
Our traditional Indian farming techniques have had a culture of being ‘eco-friendly’. Our farmers already enriched with the traditional know-how, been passed down to them over the generations. These are their safety nets, their insurance against natural hazards.
For instance, almost 60 per cent of Indian farmers are not even connected to the irrigation network, forget about technological infrastructure. The monsoons are their support system. So when the rains fail or are erratic, what do they do? Indian eco diversity is such that it makes for a unique eco-conservation in different parts of India. Each follows its own traditional specific way to tackle problems.
The Spiti area of Himachal Pradesh is a cold desert but surprisingly, agriculture is its mainstay. The cropping season in Spiti is between May and October. Wheat and black pea are grown in black soil, green pea in sandy soil and barley in yellowish soil.
A remarkable feature of farming in Spiti is the meticulous utilisation of all available space, however small. Even the boundaries of fields and edges of pathways are used to grow fodder grass.
Fertilisation in winter is done with human waste collected in a novel way: each of Spiti’s double storied houses is equipped with a dry latrine on the top floor, the waste being collected in a room below. Spiti’s another unique contribution to farming is Kul irrigation, which utilizes Kuls (diversion channels) to carry water from glacier to village.
Ladakh, located at the edge of the Tibetan plateau, gets an annual rainfall of only 140mm. The major portion of the precipitation occurs in the form of snow in the winter months and thus cannot be used for agriculture. Nonetheless, the entire cultivated area of Ladakh that stands out as an oasis in a cold, rocky desert, depends on assured irrigation from the waters of melting snow thorough long, winding streams from the upper mountain reaches.
Snows and glaciers melt slowly throughout the day and water is available for irrigation in late evening. This water is collected in tanks, locally called zings, and used the next day.
To ensure equity in distribution of scarce water, the villagers elect a water official ‘churpun’, at the start of each agricultural season. Almost the entire irrigated area in the district is based on traditional canals, constructed and maintained by the villagers.
Meghalaya’s Bamboo Magic
In Meghalaya, Bamboo Drip Irrigation is an ingenious system of tapping stream and springwater by using bamboo pipes. This minimizes loss of water while it is being transported in this sharply hilly terrain, and irrigates plantations of betel leaf or blackpaper crops.
The technique is so perfected that about 18-20 litres of water entering the bamboo pipe system per minute gets transported over several hundred metres and finally gets reduced to 20-80 drops per minute. The bamboo pipes are used to divert perennial springs on the hilltops to the lower reaches by gravity. This 200 year old system is still widely prevalent in the tribal areas of Khasi and Jaintia hills.
Footlights on farmers
It is a catch twenty two situation. A world of contrast. While farmers in US are being praised and incentivised, the Indian farmers with their rich heritage knowledge are just slipping off the brink. Is the government listening?