Simple water harvesting structures such as farm ponds have enabled many vegetable farmers in Kashmir to irrigate their fields despite the recent record-breaking drought
From August 2017 to January 2018, Kashmir suffered an unprecedented drought, but some farmers were not affected by it. In Panzinara, a vegetable growing belt near the Himalayan state’s summer capital Srinagar, Javed Ahmad and his fellow farmers have dug up deep ponds that serve them whenever they have to irrigate their vegetable patches.
“Nothing stops us from watering our vegetable fields,” Ahmad, who grows vegetables on over an acre of land, told indiaclimatedialogue.net. “Not even the droughts.”
According to Sonum Lotus, the regional meteorological director, Kashmir witnessed “a record-breaking long dry spell” since August last year. “We have never witnessed such drought conditions,” Lotus said, adding that the extremely low precipitation recorded during the period caused a lot of problems for the people as functioning of dozens of water supply schemes was badly affected.
But many diligent farmers like Ahmad, who have made provisions for fighting with drought, hardly faced any problem. What Ahmad is proud of are the three ponds he has dug up on his land in which he harvests rainwater, and surface water as well.
All the ponds in his land are around 35×20 ft and more than 10 feet deep. “We purposely make them deeper so that they retain more water and the sunlight doesn’t affect them that quickly,” Ahmad said. He and other farmers also store surface water when it is available, and use it when the sources run dry.
The next thing Ahmad plans is to create a network of irrigation pipes sourced from his three water-harvesting ponds. “That will be pretty helpful as I will be able to irrigate my farm by just pushing the button,” he told indiaclimatedialogue.net.
Other farmers in the area are also happy about the way they have laid simple water-harvesting infrastructure in their farms. Their farms, which are dotted with water harvesting ponds, are a good example of how water harvesting can make a huge difference to agricultural production especially at a time when extreme weather events like droughts are becoming more frequent.
“I produce vegetables worth three lakh rupees a year thanks to the ponds which I have dug up on my land,” said Abdul Rashid, another farmer of Panzinara.
In north Kashmir, many farmers near the apple town of Sopore and further north in Kupwara mostly rely on harvested rainwater for irrigating their farms, particularly their vegetable farms. “I grow vegetables all the year for my home and for sale as well with the help of a small pond which I have kept for harvesting rainwater,” said Mohammad Shaban, a farmer in Seelu-Sopore.
The irrigation department of Jammu and Kashmir government has also created large water harvesting ponds in many areas especially in north Kashmir though farmers say more such ponds need to be put in place.
Getting used to water harvesting
Experts say that if storing of rainwater that the region receives so frequently is taken care of, most of the agricultural land can be irrigated. “The only thing the government and the farmers need to do is to create water-holding infrastructure like ponds in and around the farms for harvesting rain-water,” Saqib Qadri, a Srinagar-based environmentalist who advises companies and governments on capacity building, told indiaclimatedialogue.net. “The government of Jammu and Kashmir needs to engage appropriate experts for devising appropriate designs in different areas for rainwater harvesting.”
According to Kashmir’s well-known glaciologist and climate change expert, Shakil Romshoo, who heads the Earth Sciences Department at Kashmir University, water availability in Kashmir is manageable if proper measures are taken by the government.
“The water supply problem that we witness in some parts of the state is not intrinsically due to the depleting water resources but it has more to do with the inadequate water infrastructure, management and governance,” Romshoo said. “Of course, there is a need for an informed and long-term strategy to optimally utilise our precious water resources in light of the changing climate and depleting cryosphere (snow and glaciers).”
Qadri believes that improving irrigational infrastructure is even more important in a region like Kashmir where farmers in some areas are either selling off land to real estate builders or are converting paddy land into orchards for economic reasons and because of lack of irrigation.
According to official figures, 70% of Kashmir’s seven million people are directly or indirectly engaged in agriculture and allied sectors. Much of Kashmir’s total area of 2.4 million hectares is mountainous or forested. The recent economic survey of Jammu and Kashmir government says well over 40% of the agricultural land in the region is rain-fed.
Several farmers said they want the government to help them tide over the summer months when water availability for irrigational needs becomes an issue. “The government has constructed water ponds in some areas for water harvesting, but much more has to be done to cover all the areas,” said Mukhtar Naikoo, a farmer in Cherakote-Kupwara.
According to the 5th assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), on a global level, climate change could affect food security by the mid-21st century and that most of the food-insecure would continue to be in South Asia, where there are currently roughly 300 million undernourished people. “Climate-related declines in food productivity will impact livelihoods and exports, increasing poverty levels. For instance, in Bangladesh, these factors would cause a net increase in poverty of 15% by 2030,” the report said.
A report prepared by Climate Action Network South Asia and Asia Pacific Adaptation Network says that agriculture is the mainstay of several countries in South Asia and is also one of the largest sources of employment continuing to be the single largest contributor to the GDP in the region. As three-ﬁfth of the cropped area is rain-fed, the economy of South Asia, says the report, hinges critically on the annual success of the monsoons, indicative of the well being of millions.
“In the event of a failure, the worst affected are the landless and the poor whose sole source of income is from agriculture and its allied activities,” the report said.