Farmer Mahesh – D. Nagenhalli village, Tumkur District, Karnataka
Young farmer Mahesh is the son of an Ayurvedic doctor - a practitioner of traditional medicine - who is renowned across the region for his ability to cure skin ailments and treat deadly snake bites with local herbs. Young Mahesh is also the secretary of the Sujala Sangha, the farmers’ association formed under the World Bank assisted ‘Sujala’ project in Karnataka.
The farmers’ association or ‘Sangha’ seeks to adopt proper water management practices with full community participation. In the past, the lack of proper management of water resources led to falling groundwater tables with disastrous consequences for poor farmers, whose shallow wells – their major source of water – ran dry as a result of the depleting aquifers.
The project is now assisting the community to recharge groundwater and fill up their wells by building a variety of bunds on rivulets and other water courses. “We are hoping to reverse the damage done over the past few decades, by discouraging the digging of borewells,” says Mahesh, “Instead, we are focusing on filling up our shallow wells so that we can use their water in our fields,” he says, displaying the foresight of a farmer who understands the need for long term sustainability of the vital water source.
To reduce water consumption in growing rice – the staple foodgrain of the area - the farmers of the Sangha are shifting away from the old method of growing paddy which needs copious amounts of water to flood the fields. Instead, with training received under the project, they are adopting the new the Madagascar method– known locally as ‘Jalashri’– that requires 70 percent less water and also gives higher yields.
“Earlier we used 30 kg of seeds to plant one acre of paddy, now we use only 2 kg or so,” says Mahesh. “Rice yields have also gone up – from 20 quintals per acre earlier to some 30 – 35 acres now.”
“Now that we are adopting proper water conservation methods, the water table in the area has risen from 400 feet to 200 feet,” he says.
Mahesh grows flowers, tomatoes, and beans on his land. He is also a skilled electrician and has learnt a great deal about medicinal herbs from his father. Will he use this knowledge to earn an additional income? “No, we don’t believe in taking money for helping people in need,” he adds vehemently. “Our medical services are free,” he says, “as they have always been for generations.”