A simple cure to save drought-hit trees

By TheHindu on 17 Aug 2017

A simple, innovative technique to save water has improved the health of trees and fruit varieties, besides significantly increasing the quality and yield.

The technique involves digging four pits around each tree and filling them with river sand and manure. Water is then supplied to the tree in such a way that the pits absorb the water, which in turn reaches the plants.

The idea was the brainchild of K. Satyagopal, Commissioner of Revenue Administration. He was honoured with a certificate of appreciation on Sunday by the Chief Minister.

His interest began after watching farmers in Hosur, where he was serving as sub-collector, he says. The farmers used earthen pitchers with holes stuffed with cotton swabs. The pots were filled with water and placed near the plants.

Mr. Satyagopal went a step further and developed a method to reach the roots directly. “Water shed and tree plantation is my passion,” he says, recalling that he grew 9,000 bamboo shoots using tubular earthen structures. But he gave up as the method was expensive.

Then, when the afforestation programme was launched under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), his idea helped not just fruiting trees like jamun, but timber, neem, mahogony, teak, tamarind, silk cotton and gulmohar trees. The trees grew well and survived drought.

Last year, he suggested the technique as severe drought forced coconut farmers in Tiruppur to buy water, making it an expensive venture. The farmers who adopted the technique reported success, he claims. In its report, the Agriculture Department observed that each of the 8,934 farmers who adopted the technique saved around 30% of water and there was a significant improvement in yield and quality of the fruits.

The technique was used last year again after cyclone Vardah felled hundreds of trees in Chennai, Tiruvallur and Kancheepuram districts.

‘Less water, more yield’

This year, the Horticulture Department is using the technique to strengthen fruiting trees. Mr. Satyagopal has advised the farmers to deepen the pit size as it would further improve the reach of water and nutrients to the roots. “In a normal plantation, watering must be done for three years, whereas the improved technique would reduce it to just 18 months,” he says.

The agriculture department is conducting a study on using drip irrigation with and without the technique in orchards.