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Farm ponds’ many merits over check-dams[continued]

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A 'gunta' for a pond:

The objective was to benefit the poorer farmers in the upper reaches, by giving them dependable water resources. BIRD-K used all the modern techniques to map the geology, topography and existing water resources. Of greater importance was the social mapping. Using what they called 'participatory rural appraisal' they had a sociological profile of the place. 'But telemetric data is no substitute to walking all over the watershed area,' says Reddy. 'nor can a social survey replace patient discussions to answer participants' doubts and queries." The project was to cover a catchment area of 1000 hectares of which 750 ha were held by 330 families spread over 6 hamlets collectively forming the Adihalli - Mylanhalli village cluster. All these holdings had given up any serious farming. Over the years they had seen sharp rainfall over just a few days wash off all the top soil and enriching the valleys below.

By 1995 the BIRD-K master plan had been ably piloted by Dr N G Hegde -- who had succeeded Manibhai Desai at BAIF, Pune -- and gained funding support from India Canada Environment Facility: they would provide Rs.8000 per hectare to be spent almost entirely on labour costs. But convincing farmers to set aside a 'gunta' or 33' x 33' per two hectare of holding, was not easy. Although the farms were practically non-productive, the average farmer felt he was giving away something for no direct benefit to himself. It must also be remembered that such a large scale proposal was without precedent. There was nowhere the farmers could be taken to see the benefits of networked farm ponds. [The Manjunathapura experiment --see box-- was smaller and did not include networking of ponds] It's a tribute to the persuasive skills of Reddy and his team that in the end, all the 330 farmers in the project area joined.

When rain water falling on hilly areas is unrestrained, it flows along the slopes, gathereing velocity and top soil. Instead, if ponds located at the same elevation are connected by trenches, water racing is arrested and water is made to dwell and descend slowly down numerous vertical paths. This in simple terms is the technique but the benefits are in the details as we shall see.

Doing it:

Guntas set aside for farm ponds were in a lower corner of the farm. In it a pond of 30'x30'x10' was excavated. The ponds were strategically located along the same contour line and interconnected by channels cut along the same elevation. On an average there are about 15 ponds per contour. Soil from excavated channels was piled high along the lower edges forming a bund. On these bunds fruit and fodder trees were planted to reinforce the bund and to make them productive. Likewise the soil excavated from ponds was piled along the edges and planted with vegetables, herbs and useful shrubs. Farmers soon realised that the surface area on these mounds were nearly equal to the land 'lost' to the ponds.

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