Rainwater harvesting: waste not, want not, the best policy

By TheHindu on 11 Nov 2016 | read
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DOUBLE BENEFIT: Mr. R Natesan a coconut farmer in Chennai.DOUBLE BENEFIT: Mr. R Natesan a coconut farmer in Chennai.


The secret of successful farming lies in the minimal use of water

CROP SUSTAINABILITY depends largely on soil and water conservation. Water and soil conservation go hand in hand and one is incomplete without the other. While preventing rainwater runoff during the monsoon, you would get only water but by arresting soil run off with the water, you would get soil as well as water, according to Mr. R. Natesan, a coconut farmer in Karanodai near Chennai.

Soil fertility

Fertility in soil is mainly found in about 7-6 cm depth of the topsoil. Below this, is the soil, which holds the water. Farmers plough the land to loosen the topsoil. If the field does not have proper bunds on all the sides then this loose soil is easily washed away along with rainwater during the monsoon or during irrigation and settles elsewhere. Therefore, washing off of the topsoil along with the runoff water should be prevented. This is the principle of watershed development through soil conservation and not water conservation alone.

Crises cause

Many farmers have not understood that groundwater decline and loss of topsoil is the root cause of many problems. They think that by sinking bore wells the water shortage can be mitigated.Water conservation also means taking right decisions on irrigation practices such as use of sprinklers, drip and check dams and programming the time and amount of irrigation to the crops for increasing yield, according to Mr. Natesan."Farmers most often complain about rainfall shortage without even measuring it," he points out. He cites the example of the drought in Tamil Nadu during 2001-2003. "When all my neighbourhood farmers were desperate about the dwindling water table the ponds in my farm were filled to the brim with water."He has constructed some check dams in his farms to arrest water runoff and has dug about 14 ponds (in his farm) which serve as effective rain water harvesters to collect the rainwater during the monsoon. The bottoms of the pits were mulched with dry coconut palms during summer. The mulching prevents the water from running into the ground and at the same time serves to recharge his two wells in the farm. In addition, he has also planted cuscus grass (vettiver in Tamil) plants near the checkdams and along the sides of his ponds. "The roots of the vettiver plants are very effective in preventing soil erosion," he said.The water from the pits is used to irrigate his coconut grove. Irrigation is usually done once a week for all the trees and twice a week for his coconut nursery.

Additional income

He is growing about 450 coconut trees in his 26-acre farm and nursery. In addition, he is also growing some ornamental fish in these pits to fetch additional income. The water is enriched by the faecal matter of the fish as well as unused fish weeds.

Water table

"The water table in our area has gone up after I had dug these pits and the salinity in our well has also gone down," he said. Most of the farmers think that more irrigation will increase their yield but it is not so. Excessive water canhamper crop growth and may give rise to unwanted weeds and death of the plants, he explained. His mulching and rainwater harvesting have produced a water bonanza for his coconut trees. All the trees in his farm are totally irrigated with the stored rainwater. And the yield, according to him, is encouraging."I harvest about 70,000-80,000 coconuts every year. About five years back I was able to harvest only about 18,000-20,000 coconuts. Now I am convinced that I can raise any crop here without bore-wells and drip irrigation."

Soil moisture

Farmers have to be convinced that the solution is not in digging more and more bore wells, but in catching rain and retaining top soil, soil moisture and fertility. The secret of successful farming lies in the minimal use of water, proper soil conservation measures, lesser use of fertilizer and a successful market for the produce, according to him. Mr. S. Natesan can be contacted at Vijay farms, Sholavaram post, Karanodai, Chennai - 600 067, Tamil Nadu, Phone: 044 - 26330316, mobile: 9444907316, email: treenatesan@yahoo.com