Problems faced by the farmers:

Water for irrigation has been a chief problem for many farmers across the country. India being an agricultural economy is also heavily dependent on rains as its primary water source. For a long time, we have heard news often about farmers dying to failed crops as there were no rains. Many of these farmers also make sacrificial offerings to deities to shower rain upon their crops.

Also due to massive and rapid urbanization, the few natural bodies of water are replenishing at a quick speed.

The same thing affected a group of farmers in Iravathanallur, Madurai. Spirits dampened by the water scarcity, these farmers were losing their only means of livelihood. And the crop losses put a further bump in their road to recovery.

The land of Kaathiyanoor tank spread across 38 acres of land and 9 acres of the  Kad­hiyanur irr­i­g­a­tion tank. This was a Wakf property of ‘Madurai Kazimar Periya Pallivasal (Mosque) Trust. The trust had given the land to 25 families, each getting approximately 2 acres of cultivable land, on lease. Also according to the contract, the farmers have to share a small share of the produce with the Trust. Failing to do so, for a certain period could result in termination of the contract.

The final tipping point for the farmers was the rampant urbanization in the nearby land, which brought more problems like reduced water availability and increased sewage waste.

Action by the farmers:

Initially, the farmers Seedhuramu and Alaksundaram, with their friend Kumaresan, decided to take immediate action for this trouble. They formed a farmer’s trust called ‘Kaathiyanoor Kanmoi Vivasayigal Vayalagam’. 

“In 2012, the Sottathatti channel, which fed the supply channel of the Kaathiyanoor tank, was RCC lined. The 18-meter channel was reduced to 6 meters and the bed was deepened for a meter. As the elevation difference between the bed level Sottathatti channel and the Kaathiyanoor channel was more than two meters, the latter could no longer receive any sewage draining in the Sottathatti channel. The tank received no feed except the sewage disposed of by households residing along the 1.3 km Kaathiyanoor channel. The channel that was originally 12 meters shrunk to three meters; even less than two meters in a few stretches,” a report said. 

Image credits: cdn.cseindia.org

DHAN Foundation:

The trust decided to themselves deepen the channel but they failed. In 2017, they approached DHAN Foundation. Dhan Foundation (Development of Humane Action) has been helping the poor and needy, with a sub-sectoral focus on water through its Vayalagam Tank Fed Agriculture Development Programme.

The DHAN Foundation helped the farmers with all the finances and technical guidance. The farmers themselves were responsible for executing and ownership of the project. Once the team was aware of the problem regarding the sewage in the tank and also the low groundwater tables, they started the revival project. They conducted detailed research about various issues not only of the tank area but also the neighbouring region. Due to abandonment post-JnNURM, there was a blockage in the feeder channel. This resulted in sewage-fed irrigation for more than 60 years.  

The tank was so full of waste and sewage now. As there was no water and also increasing population meant an increase in waste. Some farmers even switched to growing low water-demanding crops. 

Seedhuramu says, “I have about two acres of land and working on it was terrible because of the stinky water. I would often fall sick and experience frequent crop failures.” 


DHAN Foundation

Image credits: The better India

Problem solved by DHAN Foundation:

With the help of the foundation, for ten days, the farmers kept on excavating slurry. Finally, the sewage from the Sottathatti channel was flowing in the tank. Accordingly, even the water would reach the tank now. Soon the entire region was back on its feet. Farms flourishing, birds and animals back in the area.

The water problem had been solved but there was another problem gripping the quality of water and soil. There was an infest of water hyacinth in the tank. The CURE branch of DHAN Foundation was able to design a ‘mature-based treatment system’. 

The farmers made various improvements in the area. With the help of the foundation, they were able to treat the sewage, remove the water hyacinth, construct foreshore bunds and also set up floating wetlands. Over time, finally, there was a positive change for Seedhuramu and his fellow farmers. They went ahead to grow better quality crops and also get better returns for them. 

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