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A riverside harvest

The process of cultivation happens along both shores of the Tungabhadra. As the receding of the water starts in January, fields become visible and farmers mark their boundaries by putting up a small bund around their fields.
Last Updated 28 February 2024, 22:17 IST

The backwaters of the Tungabhadra have receded three months early this year, says Yankanna, a boatman who helps transport people, as well as bikes, scooters and bicycles daily in his small ferry. “This made big changes in farming in the area as farmers started cultivating early,” he adds.

Usually, the areas submerged under the Tungabhadra backwaters start to appear in January and for farmers, this would be the suitable time for sowing. This season, they have sown Bengal gram, groundnut, sorghum and cowpea in October itself. These crops will be harvested soon. An interesting aspect of the cultivation process here is that it does not involve much human intervention.  

Rangappa Chigari, a farmer from Bannigol village in Vijayanagara district, holds sorghum earheads with great happiness. “Last year, there was no rain. So, we completed sowing a bit early as compared to previous seasons. Now we are confident of getting a good yield before summer starts,” he says. Beside his field, the Bengal gram crop is in good condition. 

Rehabilitation

When the construction of the Tungabhadra reservoir was planned eight decades ago, the government acquired farmland on both riverbanks. Several villages were relocated and people were provided with basic amenities. During the acquisition process, the government also provided compensation to farmers.

During the monsoon, due to the increased inflow of water, the level of the river rises significantly. Water is released from the reservoir around January for irrigation, and the level of the river starts to recede. Farmers whose ancestors gave up their lands to the government, start sowing in the same fields, once the water recedes.

“After one or two decades, farmers started cultivation in the same lands and the government departments and officials neglected this issue then. Somehow the farming practice became popular because it requires no inputs, other than seeds. Now, hardly a few officials or department representatives try to stop the cultivation. Of course, it is all about the question of survival for farmers,” says an officer from the Agricultural Department who did not wish to be named. 

“Our fathers and grandfathers received only a few rupees as compensation for this fertile land. Though we are not the owners anymore, we have been cultivating the fields regularly for more than five decades,” says Sunkappa of Budihal village.

Nutrient-rich soil

The process of cultivation happens along both shores of the Tungabhadra. As the receding of the water starts in January, fields become visible and farmers mark their boundaries by putting up a small bund around their fields. 

Once the seeds are sown, neither chemical fertilisers nor organic compost is used for cultivation. “Every year, during the rainy season, the river brings the most fertile soil with it and dumps it on both banks. This is more than enough to grow plants,” points out organic farmer Shankar Raddy of Katralli village in Koppal district.

Since the plants get rich nutrients from the soil, they are strong enough to withstand various types of pests and diseases, say farmers in the region. The crops do not need growth promoters or additional nutrients to give good yield.

Every year, around 1.5 lakh hectares of land come under this type of cultivation. Until five years ago, farmers here only grew cowpea, but now, they are sowing Bengal gram, sorghum and groundnut.

“To harvest cowpea pods, we need many labourers. But for Bengal gram, different types of harvesters are available easily. So, we turned towards this crop along with jowar, which is our staple food,” says Sharanabasappa, an elderly farmer who has been cultivating crops in the area for more than four decades. He adds that because of the excellent quality of soil here, the yield is higher than in other places.

When the harvesting process starts, traders from nearby markets come to the villages for procurement. This ‘farm gate’ system of purchase has helped the farmers to a great extent. “But they buy at a minimum price and sell it with a huge profit. For us, the direct market is not easy to access, so we sell it locally to buyers and local farm produce agents,” says Rangappa. He earned Rs 2 lakh last year selling Bengal gram grown in three acres. This year, he has taken eight acres of land on lease for cultivation.

Concerns

Environmentalists object to this form of cultivation and express their concern over silt accumulation in the Tungabhadra reservoir. The erosion of the topsoil presents a major risk. “The top layer of soil is eroded in this method. Strong bunds must be constructed so that fertile soil can be held in place,” says soil expert P Vasu.

“If hazardous pesticides are sprayed on the crops, the residues directly mix with the water and get collected in the dam. Usually, reservoir water is used for drinking purposes and supplied to thousands of villages as well as towns throughout the year. As of now, in the Tungabhadra backwaters, the cultivation of crops does not include many chemicals. But, during the whole process, tonnes of topsoil gets loosened due to cultivation and flows towards the dam, thus decreasing the capacity of water storage,” says Badari Prasad P R, a professor at Gangavati Agricultural College, Koppal district.

A farmer in a jowar field; (Top) Jowar fields by the river.  
A farmer in a jowar field; (Top) Jowar fields by the river.  

Credit: Anandateertha Pyati

A ferry transports people to areas after water levels of the Tungabhadra recede.

A ferry transports people to areas after water levels of the Tungabhadra recede. 

Credit: Anandateertha Pyati

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(Published 28 February 2024, 22:17 IST)

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