Chhattisgarh farmers take to borewells

In Gaurela-Pendra-Marwahi district of the state, small-scale farmers having plots ranging from 1.5-3 acres have constructed shallow borewells to help them irrigate their lands, writes DEEPANWITA GITA NIYOGI

Maan Singh is a small-scale farmer from Kanchandih village in Gaurela-Pendra-Marwahi district of Chhattisgarh. Ever since he received a shallow borewell some six months back, Singh has intensified his farming activity. “Before this I could not cultivate crops except during the monsoon. I used to sow only paddy during the rains. But now things have changed for the better. I can grow vegetables as well as pulses throughout the year as the borewell will take care of all my water needs,” he said.

Singh who owns 5.5 acres of land will share irrigation water from the shallow borewell with two other farmers whose lands are in the vicinity. When they had no water facility, all of them used to do manual labour work for earning livelihood. The district mainly depends on seasonal rains. So, in the event of monsoon failure, distress conditions prevail, forcing people to migrate in search of work.

To help farmers tide over the crisis, the National Institute of Women, Child and Youth Development (NIWCYD), a non-profit headquartered in Nagpur, has helped construct 30 shallow borewells which are easily rechargeable. In this initiative, 94 beneficiary farmers also  contributed a small amount of money on their own. “Shallow borewell is an important activity for livelihood development in villages. This activity covered 142 acres of land in Pendra across the three villages of Bhandi, Tangiyamaar and Kanchandih,” Gaurav Gupta, programme manager, NIWCYD, said. While 30 farmers’ groups contributed 15,000-16,000 each, the cost of the bore drilling machine, pipe and wires were borne by the organisation which stood around 25,500 per borewell.

The borewell project was completed in January this year. For the first time, farmers cultivated crops during the summer season which they were unable to do before. Sudhan Sarkar, who works for NIWCYD and is based in Pendra, said farmers who lacked irrigation facility were chosen for the initiative. “All the beneficiary farmers were formed into small groups consisting of two to six individuals. Earlier, their barren lands did not enable them to cultivate crops throughout the year. Now, they can grow even vegetables, apart from paddy during the Kharif season.”

Sharing irrigation water

To avoid altercation among farmers in the same group over water sharing, it has been decided that the one whose land is located the farthest will get water first. “The ground water level here is good.

Before starting the project, meetings were organised with farmers in the villages. It was revealed at that time that due to the lack of irrigation facility, many people migrated to Raipur and Bilaspur or even outside the state in search of work. To facilitate work on borewells, formation of gram vikas samitis or village development committees took place followed by field inspections,” Sarkar added. These committees having 11-12 members have both men and women. Meetings at the village are generally held with them.

A village development committee member from Tangiyamaar, Ramsingh, said the role of these committees is to help conduct meetings in the villages. As farmers have many demands, our members help in carrying their messages forward. It is our committee which wanted proper irrigation facility in the village, he informed.

Distress migration

Another village development committee member, Dhan Singh from Kanchandih village, said, “Members like us work towards development of the village. As many people from here migrate to cities for labour work, we held a consultation on the need to have borewells to stop migration. Some people also work in factories during the lean season. Many even go to Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka. Now, borewell will ensure that they cultivate crops.”

Many people used to migrate outside for work but due to borewells, they are now assured of a fixed income. Eshwar Sendram from Tangiyamaar village is one such beneficiary. He has worked at construction sites and also helped erect fencing poles outside the state for many years to earn money for his family. His brother still lives outside Chhattisgarh. Ever since the lockdown was announced in March last year, Sendram has not stepped outside his village. He has 2.5 acres of land and is planning to do cropping throughout the year.

Another person named Anand Sendram from Bhandi village said as farmers did not get multiple crops, most of them left the village. He stayed for three to four years in Indore and Odisha. He used to earn 250-400 per day by working on the construction of electricity poles. “Now I am not thinking of going outside. I hope the borewell will help me feed my family of seven. I am planning to grow veggies around September and sell the excess produce.”

Bhandi village resident Kripal Singh said farmers like him were dependent on monsoon before and could only grow paddy. “Most of us have lands ranging from one to three acres. I have 2.5 acre in one place and another small plot in  another area. In Kharif I cultivated paddy and during Rabi my land used to be empty.” After he got borewell, Singh cultivated flaxseed and urad. He is also growing 105 guava trees and maize. In this way, he has diversified his crops.

Though the Phulwari dam is some 8 to 10 km away, many farmers in Pendra never got water. Gupta, however, added that in Bhandi village water is available at a depth of 30-40 feet because of the dam. So, much digging was not required for the borewells. Shallow borewells mostly involve digging by hand and depends on manual labour. But the advantage is that farmers can have water 24 hours.

According to Amar Prakash, programme coordinator in Water Aid, shallow borewells are easy to recharge through rainwater. But it is not the case with deep borewells. As shallow borewells can be set up through manual labour, in terms of cost these are economical too.

As the results are positive, the project will be expanded to another set of 35 borewells covering about 150 farmers, said Gupta. The digging will commence around November this year.