Although it is only March, parts of the country are already beginning to experience rising temperature and heat wave conditions.
This is enormously worrisome because summer is right at our doorstep, as is the real fear of water shortage.
In recent years, cases of extreme water shortage and even droughts have been on the rise, and sadly, farmers are always the worst hit.
In fact, crop failure due to drought has claimed the lives of more farmers, than any other cause, including incessant rainfall and chemical overdose.
Undoubtedly, the optimal management of water resources which will not only conserve water but also help farmers wade through unpredictable situations, are the need of the hour.
While options like check-dams and manmade reservoirs have existed since time immemorial to meet water needs, these have done little to sustain the groundwater table, which has already been overmined to meet irrigational needs.
Innovative solutions like rainwater harvesting, agroforestry and recharge wells that root on sustainability are coming to the rescue of scores of farmers. Additionally, organic farming practices have also aided farmers by rejuvenating not just the soil but also the groundwater table.
What if there were more solutions like these to help farmers prepare in advance and manage water ahead of the summers?
Here are five simple yet impactful farming methods centred upon water conservation that will help farmers beat summer at its own game:
Thanks to Biplab Ketan Paul and his unique water harvesting technology, farmers across the country are not only raising crops through phases of water scarcity but also preventing crop destruction that occurs due to waterlogging after unseasonal rainfall.
Paul came up with the idea shortly after the 2001 Gujarat earthquake. He had observed how barely months after the disaster, acute scarcity of water occurred, which was then followed by the monsoon, heavy rainfall and immense waterlogging in the fields.
Working a way out of one disaster to alleviate the other, he went on to create Bhungroo—a water harvesting technique that uses an injection module to store excess rainwater underground.
The system consists of a pipe erected in such a way that excess water passes through it, gets filtered and accumulates in an underground well. The water is later pumped out using motors for irrigational purposes. The technology also helps avoid evaporation loss and wastage of water during the monsoon season.
The underground reservoir can hold 40 million litres of water and ensure a 7-month-long supply. Additionally, a mix of the non-saline rainwater with the underground saline water brings down the salinity of the groundwater and makes it fit for agriculture.
You can read more about Bhungroo here.
2. Integrated Farming
Integrated farming is an agricultural management system that incorporates livestock and crop production and is centred upon sustainability. It can help farmers grow food throughout the year, while concurrently rejuvenating the soil and the groundwater table
The best example is that of Kanwal Singh Chauhan, a baby corn farmer from the Aterna village in Sonepat, Haryana, who is also a Padma Shri recipient.
His advocacy of integrated farming today benefits about 5,000 farmers in the region, who can grow vegetables throughout the year.
“In addition to the harvested crops, everything that is produced here is utilised in some way or the other to ensure no wastage. For instance, the used baby corn stalks, as well as mushroom remnants all go into the making of manure. In addition to that, faecal waste from the livestock on our farm is put to use for manuring purposes. Nothing here goes to waste; we guarantee that,” he says.
You can read more about Kanwal Singh Chauhan here.
3. Drought-tolerant crops
This is a switch that farmers will have to consciously take, even if the popularity of crops might not appear to be lucrative. We are talking about millets, which fortunately owing to their health benefits, are making their way into our food systems.
Thriving in arid regions, these crops are extremely low maintenance and can work wonders for farmers, who wouldn’t have to fear the onset of summer if the demand increases.
If farmers can do their part in helping us become healthy, then we should also consciously begin including more millet products in our diets as a giveback to our food providers.
Our participation can put an end to their suffering in summers and perhaps even bring down farmer suicides to a greater extent.
To help our farmers right away, you can check out a range of millet-based products on The Better India Shop here.
4. Olla or Pitcher Irrigation
An ancient technology that originated in North Africa, olla or buried clay pot irrigation promises about 70 per cent efficient watering system through a porous clay pot that is buried up to its neck and filled up with water.
Seeping slowly out of the pot, the water moistens an area about one-half the diameter of the olla and creates a very healthy environment for the plant roots.
The top can be covered with a rock to keep it clean as well as to prevent evaporation. Depending upon the crop and the rainfall, one can fill these pots two to three times a week.
Furthermore, the olla can be optimally used by placing it in the middle of several plants. This will allow them to draw moisture from the centre and grow outward onto the dry land. This uses the space and the water very efficiently.
Some folks in Bengaluru have utilised the same method to sustain gardens around Jakkur Lake. Check it out in this video.
5. Rain shelter cultivation
The concept of rain shelter cultivation gains importance in conditions where crops are to be protected from extreme climate, particularly summer.
In recent times, this mode of farming has become quite a rage in Kerala.
It is propagated by the state agricultural department as a measure not just to help farmers cultivate through extreme summers but also cut down contamination of commercially grown food crops by fertilisers and pesticides.
Even small-scale farming enthusiasts are giving rain shelter cultivation a try to reap huge benefits.
Quite similar to a greenhouse, rain shelters are naturally ventilated and put together using GI (Galvanised Iron) pipes, wooden or bamboo poles. Attached on top are roofs that are made up of a transparent, UV-stabilised low-density polyethene film.
By accentuating crop cultivation within one’s premises, rain shelter cultivation has helped farmers grow vegetables throughout the year.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)