One Problem, Two Faces
Two of the most pressing problems of our time are closely related.
- Cauvery has depleted 40% in the last 70 years
- Almost half the Cauvery basin suffers critical groundwater depletion
- 87% of the basin’s original tree cover has been lost
- During the summer, Cauvery is unable to reach the ocean
- A desolate, sandy bed is all that millions of people see for many months of the year
- The suffering of farmers and their suicides in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have made national headlines
- 83% of farmers in Tamil Nadu and 77% of farmers in Karnataka are in debt
- 17 districts in Tamil Nadu were drought-hit in 2019
- 15 of the last 18 years have been drought years in Karnataka
Why Cauvery Is Dying
The depletion of Cauvery and the distress of farmers have a common source – the dying soil.
Cauvery, like almost all rivers in India, is forest-fed. Historically, this region was covered in forests and tree cover. The soil was constantly replenished with nutrients and organic matter by animal waste and plant litter.
Organic matter allowed the soil to absorb water, and thus feed Cauvery. But as human population grows and tree cover reduces, the soil is no longer replenished. It no longer absorbs water and suffers erosion instead.
The soil no longer feeds Cauvery, which is drying up.
There Is Only One Solution
The solution lies in replenishing the soil. If we can replenish the soil’s nutrients and carbon content, it will once again turn fertile, absorb rainwater, and feed Cauvery. This will revive the river ecology and also improve the farmer’s economic situation.
The easiest and cheapest way to replenish soil is to plant trees.
- In government land, native tree species can be planted
- In private farmland, farmers can shift to agroforestry - the practice of growing conventional crops with fruit and timber trees in the same farm.
- Plant 242 crore trees in Cauvery basin, with 73 crore trees in the first phase across Tamil Nadu and Karnataka
- Multiply farmers’ income by 3-8 times in 5-7 years
- Increase water retention in Cauvery basin by an estimated 40%
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Rally for Rivers
What Can We Do?
Planting trees on both sides of the river will hold water, increase the moisture content in the soil, and groundwater recharge. This will help in crop productivity and will be a great support to farmers. It will bring back life to our rivers.
Based on the agroforestry models of Rally for Rivers, the short rotation and long rotation crops can co-exist, and farmers can earn revenue in a very short time, even in the first year.
The rivers gather most of their water from rainfall and groundwater. Rejuvenation of rivers should follow a scientific methodology, recognizing the relation between vegetation and water.
We have done studies in various rivers in the Western Ghats. (Over 100) rivers originate in the Western Ghats. Wherever the stream catchment has native vegetation to an extent of 60% of native species, we see the streams carrying adequate quantity of water all 12 months.
What happens if we continue this absolute irresponsible reaction to nature? I think we are facing a calamity of a proportion which is unimaginable. People can survive without food. Can you stay without water for a day or more than two days?