Drought teaches people the value of water

People have become receptive to the idea of water conservation only now

Published - June 28, 2019 12:15 am IST

Twelve years ago, I asked the then Agriculture Secretary of Tamil Nadu whether his department was undertaking any programme to promote the concept of water conservation without compromising on yield. I had just returned from the U.S. where I had seen people conserve water in different ways. I told the officer that in Minnesota, the place of origin of the Mississippi river, farmers were taking to sprinkler irrigation in a big way.

The officer clearly did not like my question, nor did he like the U.S. example. He curtly replied that his department was doing everything it could. The implication was that he did not need a lecture on water conservation.

The officer’s attitude was not an isolated case. Around the same time, I went to Mayiladuthurai in Nagapattinam district in Tamil Nadu and asked a relative whether he would be receptive to the idea of water conservation, even while maintaining the same level of yield. The relative, a post-graduate and a resourceful farmer, shrugged off the question. “We are used to utilising water in a particular way, whether there is enough water in the Cauvery or not. This is how society has been treating water for thousands of years,” he replied. Would people be willing to change their ways even after experiencing droughts and trying times, I wondered.

Thankfully, changes do happen. Over the last couple of weeks, I have been in touch with farmers from different regions in Tamil Nadu. The State is now facing a severe water crisis. I broached the subject of water conservation with them, just like I did with the State Agriculture Secretary and my relative more than a decade ago.

I was in for a pleasant surprise with the relative. The tables had turned. This time he gave me a lecture on how to save water while raising paddy. He is an avid practitioner of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), a method of cultivation involving less water and seeds. The spell of drought that the Cauvery delta had faced seven years ago had convinced him of the idea of using water efficiently. He realised that he could no longer rely on the “traditional” practice of using more water than what was required.

R. Muthukumar, a young farmer of Tiruvannamalai district, which is not known to be a water surplus area, said he could not spot anyone who was interested in concepts such as SRI six or seven years ago, despite the groundwater in their lands going down steeply. But this has changed, he said. Now the people in his village are interested in knowing about the various ways in which water can be conserved. Drought teaches people the value of water.

Micro-irrigation is gaining currency in several parts of Tamil Nadu due to a host of factors including the support from the State government. Sugarcane, banana, coconut, and vegetables like brinjal and tomato are being raised through this method. Drip irrigation for sugarcane is becoming popular in many parts of the State.

This is not to say that the problem has been solved. There continues to be enormous scope for efficient utilisation of water. But in a moment of crisis such as this, the silver lining is that no one now, whether a farmer or an officer, scoffs at the idea of water conservation.

People are waking up to reality now, and hopefully it’s not too late.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.