Or­chards in desert

A sim­ple tech­nol­ogy as­sures con­tin­u­ous mois­ture sup­ply to plants, helps grow or­chards in wa­ter­scarce ar­eas

Down to Earth - - GOOD NEWS - M SU­CHI­TRA | ANAN­TA­PUR

ENIMALA GOPAL is ex­cited. Ig­nor­ing the scorch­ing sun, he runs from one plant to the other.He has planted 160 mango saplings on his land. “Come, see this,” he calls out to his wife, Yer­ramma, scoop­ing out some wet soil from un­der­neath a plant.Gopal had never imag­ined in his wildest dreams that he would be able to grow a fruit or­chard on his parched land.

His vil­lage Madiguba falls in the Anan­ta­pur dis­trict of Andhra Pradesh,which re­mains for­saken both by the mon­soon and gov­ern­ment’s ir­ri­ga­tion fa­cil­i­ties.The gov­ern­ment has cat­e­gorised the dis­trict as a desert. So like many other farm­ers in the re­gion, Gopal had al­lowed his one hectare to re­main fal­low for years and some­how pulled through by work­ing as a daily wa­ger un­der the Ma­hatma Gandhi Na­tional Ru­ral Em­ploy­ment Guar­an­tee Scheme (mgnregs). “Early this year, for the first time, we har­vested a tonne of toma­toes.If th­ese mango saplings sur­vive and grow into trees, our strug­gle will come to an end,” Yer­ramma says with a hearty smile.

What has come to thee aid of the fam­ily and other farm­ers rs in Anan­ta­pur is a tech­nol­ogy, gy, Sys­tem of Wa­ter for Agri­cul­tural Re­ju­ve­na­tion (swar).“We de­vel­oped swar to help the mil­lions of small and mar­ginal farm­ers in arid re­gions who fail to grow any­thing due to lackk of wa­ter and elec­tric­ity,” says K S Gopal, di­rec­tor of Hy­der­abad-based non-profit Cen­tre for En­vi­ron­ment Con­cerns (cec). The con­ven­tional mi­cro-ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem (which in­volves draw­ing wa­ter from the source, say a bore well,and drip­ping it onto the soil at very low rates) has def­i­nitely re­duced wa­ter re­quire­ment by one-fourth com­pared to flood­flo ir­ri­ga­tion. But it does no not work in ar­eas where wa­ter is scarce and elec­tric­ity sup­ply is un­re­li­able. For in­stance, ex­plains K S Gopal,one-third of wa­ter gets evap­o­rated in mi­cro-ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem. Since there is no way to k know whether plants have

re­ceived suf­fi­cient wa­ter, farm­ers, at times, use up the en­tire wa­ter avail­able in bore wells. Ex­cess wa­ter only leads to weed growth. swar does not re­quire elec­tric­ity, and uses only one-tenth of the wa­ter re­quired un­der flood ir­ri­ga­tion by as­sur­ing that the soil around the roots re­mains moist.

Min­i­mal­is­tic and holis­tic

“The con­cept of swar is holis­tic,” says Balaji Utla, a re­searcher at cec. It in­volves har­vest­ing rain­wa­ter and mak­ing it avail­able for ir­ri­ga­tion.Rain­wa­ter is col­lected in a small tank, lined with clay at the bot­tom and sides to pre­vent per­co­la­tion.It is kept cov­ered with plas­tic sheets to check evap­o­ra­tion.Wa­ter is then pumped to an over­head tank us­ing a pedal pump. From there, wa­ter flows to each plant un­der grav­ity.

Wa­ter flows through a pvc pipe at­tached to the over­head tank and gets col­lected in fivelitre moulded and ul­tra-vi­o­let resistant plas­tic jars placed next to each plant.Th­ese jars are kept em­bed­ded in two-and-a-half litre earthen pots that re­main buried in the soil. Wa­ter drips into the earthen pot through a hole at the bot­tom of plas­tic jar and from there it seeps into the soil.

The cap of the plas­tic bot­tle is fit­ted with a fil­ter to strain im­pu­ri­ties and a T-knob to reg­u­late wa­ter flow. It re­mains above the ground so that the farmer can mon­i­tor it. “Us­ing swar,we need to wa­ter once in a week for 15-20 min­utes,” says Sakke Narayana, a farmer from Garudem­palli vil­lage in Anan­ta­pur.He has planted 180 trees,in­clud­ing mango, guava, lime and cus­tard ap­ple on his less-than-one hectare land. “We do not have to spend hours wa­ter­ing the plants.This is very easy,”says his wife,Ra­man­janamma.

cec ad­vises farm­ers to en­hance the level of mi­crobes in the soil so that mois­ture spreads fast.“Apart from pro­vid­ing nu­tri­ents to the plant, mi­crobes till the soil by mov­ing around,”ex­plains Om Ru­pela,who was a se­nior sci­en­tist with the In­ter­na­tional Crops Re­search In­sti­tute for Semi-AridTr­poics and is as­so­ci­ated with de­vel­op­ing swar.“This cre­ates cap­il­lary ac­tion for mois­ture to spread around the roots.”So far, 4,000 fruit-bear­ing trees have been planted us­ing swar in Anan­ta­pur in Andhra Pradesh; Nal­go­nda in Te­lan­gana; Os­man­abad in Ma­ha­rash­tra; and Se­hore in Mad­hya Pradesh.

While farm­ers who have adopted the tech­nol­ogy are happy,many non-prof­its work­ing with small and mar­ginal farm­ers say it may not ben­e­fit all. The in­stal­la­tion cost of swar de­pends on the num­ber of trees on the farm. For an or­chard of 200 plants,in­stalling swar along with rain­wa­ter har­vest­ing and stor­age in­fra­struc­ture will cost about 300 per plant.

So far, all the farm­ers us­ing SWAR tech­nol­ogy are re­ceiv­ing support from non­prof­its who have bought the tech­nol­ogy from de­vel­op­ers

“Mar­ginal and small farm­ers can ill af­ford it,” says Y V Malla Reddy, di­rec­tor at Ac­cion Fra­terna Ecol­ogy Cen­tre in Anan­ta­pur. All farm­ers us­ing the tech­nol­ogy have re­ceived support from var­i­ous non-prof­its who bought the tech­nol­ogy from cec on ex­per­i­men­tal ba­sis. cec in­stalled the sys­tem for free on Enimala Gopal’s farm as a demon­stra­tion project.“ngos can support only a few farm­ers, not all,”says Reddy.

K S Gopal is hope­ful.“swar costs much less when com­pared with flood ir­ri­ga­tion. A lot of money is be­ing spent for hor­ti­cul­ture de­vel­op­ment and wa­ter con­ser­va­tion un­der mgnregs with­out de­sir­able re­sults,”he adds.

In Andhra Pradesh (be­fore bi­fur­ca­tion), ev­ery year the gov­ern­ment was set­ting up or­chards on 60,000 ha of dry land un­der mgnregs. Th­ese or­chards were wa­tered by 5,000-litre tanks at­tached to a trac­tor. Given that mango or­chards re­quire 40 rounds of ir­ri­ga­tion a year,the gov­ern­ment spent 90,000 a year on wa­ter­ing a hectare of dry land­turned-mango or­chard. The gov­ern­ment would have spent 3,500 a year us­ing swar tech­nol­ogy,says K S Gopal.

The tech­nol­ogy would also have helped save a sig­nif­i­cant amount of wa­ter and money spent on elec­tric­ity sub­sidy. It is es­ti­mated that the Andhra Pradesh gov­ern­ment spends about 21,250 on elec­tric­ity sub­sidy for help­ing farm­ers ir­ri­gate one hectare. Three years of sub­sidy money that the gov­ern­ment dis­burses to­wards ir­ri­ga­tion is suf­fi­cient to pro­vide the swar sys­tem to all farm­ers in the state.

“If the Cen­tre and the state gov­ern­ments pro­mote swar,more farm­ers can adopt it and a lot of wa­ter, elec­tric­ity and money can be saved,”says Utla. Apart from us­ing swar for grow­ing fruits and vegetables and en­hanc­ing green cover in arid re­gions,the tech­nol­ogy can be very well used in grow­ing a good num­ber of trees in de­graded for­est land, says K S Gopal. One can trans­fer the sys­tem to other spots once the saplings have grown.

M SU­CHI­TRA / CSE

SWAR tech­nol­ogy uses

one-tenth of wa­ter re­quired un­der flood

ir­ri­ga­tion

Hy­der­abad H ES AD PR RA DH AN

Anan­ta­pur

K S GOPAL

A few me­tres of PVC pipes, plas­tic jars and clay pots are all one needs to im­ple­ment SWAR. It costs ` 300 per plant in an or­chard of 200 plants

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