Two areca farmers of Sirsi in northern Karnataka, Ganapathy Dattatreya Hegde and his brother-in-law Ananda Subbray Pratakahal have become community leaders, workhorses and heroes, all in one. They have turned a situation of water-scarcity and soil-degradation into one of regeneration.
THE STRATEGY: Develop water-conservation methods, appropriate to the local area, to combat falling water tables and topsoil erosion. Use these to recharge ground water amd make the soil healthy again. Keep it all low-tech.
(1) Ganapathy Dattatreya Hegde and his brother-in-law Ananda Subbray Pratakahal and their story of water-conservation is one of trial and error, started in 2001.
(2) Local dairy farmers met/meet each day at a central point to sell their milk. The collection spot is a meeting point and important communication centre for the community. It was here that that some farmers were discussing the unpredicatability and delay of rains in recent years and wondering what to do. From these meetings came various ideas for conserving rainwater and combatting runoff.
(3) “We spent the first year on acquiring know-how," says Ananda.
(4) The pair made a house-by-house survey of how much water each one used for domestic consumption and compared it to the measurable water they were collecting by various methods. Thus they could calculate how much water was returning to the water table.
(5) A regeneration has happened in Onnikere! The three natural lakes within betta lands at Onnikere have filled up enough to sport darters and a host of water-birds and geese coming in to roost in the evening light. Flash floods that happened each year, even with just five cms of rain because of the lack of soil cover have already been arrested. The leaves of the trees look greener, fresher with more 'shine' to them; grasses have caught on in most places, especially on the lower slopes and the general vegetation is already much improved.
(6) The community has banned grazing within the bettas; those whose bettas are in better condition allow controlled grazing
(7) The areca too has benefited greatly. "Yields are good and there is a lot more colour in the areca nut," says Ganapathy.
(8) Maintenance of the trenches generally involves desilting annually, but Ananda studied the trenches and found that the leaf-litter and moisture left behind in the trenches after the rains have earthworms in them helping to decompose and aerate the litter enough to allow percolation to happen. So now, they don't even need to do much cleaning of the trenches.
(9) The duo convinced the others in the three villages that this was a community matter that would benefit all of them and so all work would be a collective effort, regardless of whose betta lands they were working on.
(10) Word of Onnikere's water-wealth has now spread and others are coming in to see what the community has been doing. Ananda and Ganapathy now conduct training programmes for other villages.
(1) Part of this area includes the Western Ghat mountain ranges and is about 80 per cent forested. Predominantly agricultural with areca as the main crop, besides pepper, cardamom, paddy and others, the areca plantations here have been given forest lands called soppinabetta (betta), for use as foliage for the areca through a special privilege act from colonial times that prevails even today. With every acre of areca came nine acres of forest lands. The areca land-owner was, and still is, allowed to build his home on 'betta' lands, but cannot sell or use these forests for any other purpose. But soppinabettas are now facing acute degradation due to overgrazing by the farmers' cattle and from lopping of trees and branches so severely that it doesn't grow back. The result has not only been less leaf litter for the areca, but soils have degraded and the resulting water-scarcity in non-monsoonal times is causing hardship to both farmer and cattle. The high-intensity of rains is also causing problems with washing off the topsoils of the betta lands that have no forest cover on them. The degradation in some places still show signs of desertification. Wells also turn dry in the summer months.
(2) Ananda thinks the rainfall increase in the last two years could well be because of the regeneration happening in the betta lands due to water-recharge, but he has no data to prove that connecting link.