Agroforestry Is Key to Solving India’s Water Scarcity
Let’s learn how modern farming is destroying the soil of India and how natural farming is the only sustainable way to enrich the soil and revitalize our depleting rivers.
This water distress is not only today. In the old movies, you see the womenfolk carrying a pot and walking and singing. We think this is romantic. The actress is carrying an empty pot, but in the village, a woman carries fifteen kilograms on her head and walks! No song will come out of her - she cannot even open her mouth because she is carrying such a huge weight. Every day she spends half her life just carrying water.
Womenfolk have been fighting at the taps for a long time and it has become a cultural thing. They are not fighting for fun. Every day they have to stand in a long queue near the tap, but the tap is wet only for one hour. If it gets over she has to fight and jump the queue somehow. Abuses would flow endlessly. Now that men have entered the scene, because the situation has become more dire, killings will happen. The civil strife that is waiting on our hands is big.
Rivers Are Not The Source of Water
You cannot hold water in a dam, check-dam or barrage. These are effective for water usage, but they cannot enhance the water supply. The only way you can hold the water in the land is through vegetation.
People think a river, a pond or a lake is a source of water. In a tropical country, these are not sources but destinations of water. There is only one source of water for us, which is the monsoon rain. The monsoon pours down a huge volume of water between forty-five to sixty days in a year. When this huge volume of water comes down, our ability to hold it in the soil will determine how many days in a year the rivers will flow. Our rivers are not like European or North American rivers. They have glacial water coming from snow. The snow sits on the land for two months, slowly melts and percolates down. India’s water comes in a downpour. If we hold it, then the rivers will flow for 365 days. If we do not hold it, it will run away within the next fifteen to twenty days.
So what allows us to hold the water? You cannot hold water in a dam, check-dam or barrage. These are effective for water usage, but they cannot enhance the water supply. The only way you can hold the water in the land is through vegetation.
There is no rocket science to this. We have to put back the green cover in this country. How to put it back? We are 1.3 billion people, and it is estimated that by 2030, we will be 1.5 billion. There is too much population pressure on the land so we cannot increase the forest cover. The only other way is to go for agroforestry – we use the trees as a livelihood for ourselves, we grow forests for economic reasons.
Fifty percent of the land in India is used for agriculture. If you fly from Coimbatore to Delhi, if you look out the window every five minutes, except for the Western Ghats, all you see is a brown desert. This is simply because of senseless agriculture.
We need to shift back to agroforestry. This is not a new idea or concept. In southern India, in any agricultural land, there always used to be a minimum of twenty-five to fifty trees, at least on the boundary. I have seen in Karnataka, people used to plant trees when their son or daughter was born and name the tree after them. Let’s say when their girl grows up and is 18-20 years of age, this tree is ripe. If they cut this tree, her marriage is taken care of. If the son wants to go to the university, his education is also taken care of. This was the economy of the rural places.
About forty years ago, the massive usage of chemical fertilizers started. I was into agriculture at that time and I have seen this. Agents from fertilizer industries came and campaigned, “You have to remove the trees. They are sucking out all the fertilizer because of their aggressive root system. The fertilizer will not go to your crops.” So crores of trees across Karnataka were felled.
In just two generations, we have come to a place where groundwater has depleted tremendously, river water is going away, every water source is just depleting. In just two generations, nearly twenty-five percent of India is on the verge of becoming a desert.
Natural Farming Is The Only Sustainable Way
This is about clearly demonstrating to the nation and the world that there is a solution, that a large river can be revived by taking action. This should be our gift to the future generations – that we revived Cauvery.
Modern farming is forcefully trying to extract from the land, regardless of what happens to the life that exists in the land. Natural or eco-farming is the only way that future generations can live well. There must be leaves from the tree and animal waste for the soil to be rich. Unless we go back to natural farming and save the soil, there is really no future.
If farmers shift to agroforestry, it will not only replenish the river and soil but will also increase a farmer’s income by three to eight times. It is in this context that I launched Cauvery Calling. We are looking at supporting farmers to plant 242 crore trees in the Cauvery basin. Cauvery is only the first step. If we successfully pull this off in twelve years’ time in the Cauvery basin, this will be a game-changer for the nation and for the tropical world.
To assist the farmer to shift to agroforestry, one thing that needs to happen is large-scale development of saplings. Taking in all the aspects, it costs about forty-two rupees per sapling. We are crowd-sourcing the fund. Everybody who consumes water must join together, because this is not about a particular region. I appeal to all the people across the country, do not think, “Cauvery is in the south, so why should I do it?” This is about clearly demonstrating to the nation and the world that there is a solution, that a large river can be revived by taking action. This should be our gift to the future generations – that we revived Cauvery.