These days, Parashuram Agasimani is all smiles. After seeing drought for four consecutive years since 2014, this 73-year-old farmer from Murkwad village in Haliyal taluk of Uttara Kannada district has been reaping a bumper crop for the past two years.
This sudden turn in his fortune has helped him clear most of his loans taken during the years of drought.
Life wasn’t easy for the farmers in Haliyal, a taluk in the rain shadow region of the Western Ghats. Villages here faced floods when it rained heavily and dried out completely during a poor monsoon. The reason: water bodies in the village were filled to the brim with silt and waste.
“I don’t remember the last time the Murkwad lake (27 acres) was desilted. As the lake lost its storing capacity, the excess water during monsoon spilled over into our fields, destroying standing crops. It went dry even before the onset of summer, leaving our cattle thirsty,” said Agasimani.
Agasimani says things only changed after the Shri V R Deshpande Memorial Trust, headed by Haliyal MLA R V
Deshpande, began desilting the lakes and ponds. Over the past four years, over 113 of the 200 odd waterbodies in and around Haliyal and Joida taluks have been desilted with the help of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds.
Farmers say the desilting of waterbodies has directly benefitted them. The increased storage capacity of the tanks has improved the groundwater table and prevented flooding in villages and farms; the diverting of silt in fields has increased crop yield; fishing activities have been taken up in the newly rejuvenated lakes and tanks, increasing the revenue of the entire village.
Before undertaking desilting, the NGO had one condition: the farmers had to voluntarily carry the excavated silt to their fields. “To our surprise, farmers from even far-off places took this highly fertile soil in their tractors in several trips,” says Prakash Prabhu, administrator of the trust.
Mahadev Somlinga Patil (28), a farmer at Guttigeri, who drove nearly 50 times to Guttigeri lake to get the silt, said his sugarcane yield went up by at least 10-15 tonnes per acre. “The silt has enriched my land and I can now cultivate various crops without using any chemical fertilisers for at least the next five years,” he said.
Farmers also say that desilting lakes has largely stopped flooding.
Y P Korvekar of Murkwad village said they have leased out the lake to a contractor for Rs seven lakh for four years, for aquaculture. The revenue generated will be used to organise village fairs; some villagers are also using this revenue for village development.
However, there is one unintended consequence of desilting. Cultivation of water guzzling crops like sugarcane and paddy have taken over most fields.
R V Deshpande, who oversaw implementation of the programme, said awareness is being created among farmers to switch back to traditional food crops that consume less water. “Slowly, we aim to encourage farmers to take up dairy farming on a large scale,” he said.
As per Deshpande, the CSR funds flowed to his constituency not because he was a minister but because corporate houses were willing to fund good projects.