Involving the weaker sections in finding farming methods that work in conditions of floods and water-logging goes a long way in renewing livelihoods.
As soon as flood waters recede in any place, the topic of vanishes almost entirely from media discussions. However, for those affected by the flood, the real challenge is renewing their livelihood after the waters recede.
As the flood-affected people return to their villages, many find their houses collapsed and fields water-logged. The rubble deposited in the fields makes cultivation difficult. Instances of land erosion due of floods have increased in recent years. All this leaves farmers with no resources to arrange for seeds and other inputs for the next cropping season. However, it is very important to plant the crops in time or food shortages can extend for several months.
Some of these problems can be reduced to an extent by timely relief and compensation, but even those remain far from adequate. Voluntary efforts to provide relief have also declined in recent years.
Repairing the collapsed houses before winter sets in is important or the cold may have a heavy toll. A few years ago, I visited the flood-affected areas of Bihar three months after the water had receded and saw that many victims were still struggling to survive under polythene sheets in the cold weather. Lack of proper guidelines on how to deal with post-flood challenges accentuate problems in villages.
For several centuries, the deposition of silt by floodwaters on farmlands has helped in increasing its fertility and productivity, making conditions conducive for a good yield in the next cropping season. This is still true to some extent but other factors have intervened to make the situation more complicated. The floodwater does not drain quickly and leaves harmful sandy rubble instead of fertile silt in many areas. With the decreasing self-reliance of farming systems and increasing dependence on outside inputs – including seeds – it becomes more difficult to find the resources for cultivating the next crop following the serious damage caused by floods.
Hence, the role of outside help in ensuring that the next crop is cultivated in a satisfactory way has become more important. The timely supply of seeds will go a long way in mitigating farmers’ losses.
Whenever careful and sustained efforts were made with the involvement of the weaker sections to find farming methods that work in conditions of floods and water-logging, encouraging results were achieved. Good yields were obtained even in very difficult conditions. In this context, the sustained work of the Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG) in villages of eastern Uttar Pradesh has been particularly helpful as it has emphasised working with women farmers and the weaker sections.
One of the efforts by the GEAG was adopting loft farming in which farmers develop lofts or stilts using wooden sticks on which climber crops like bitter gourds and bottle gourds take support for growing. The produce does not go bad even if the fields being waterlogged. Another option has been to adopt mixed farming organic systems that cut down heavily on the costs of agri-chemicals. The less suitable farming plots in flood and water-logged areas remain uncultivated when costs are high, but once the costs come down, people find it viable to cultivate these less productive fields as well. Another option has been to integrate fish and poultry farming in such a way that the wastes and by-products of one sub-system become the inputs of another system. This ensures that scarce resources get utilised in the best possible way.
R.H. Richaria, former director of the Central Rice Research Institute in Cuttack, had pioneered the technology of clonal propagation of rice in the specific context of India. By using this technology, seeds can be available very quickly after floods. Such technologies need to be used to ensure that the flood-affected people get adequate help in renewing their life and livelihood.
Bharat Dogra is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements and initiatives.