News & Notes 698:Dig deeper or let die? – The impact of drought on our farms

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698 icon.jpg   News & Notes 698
6 May 2017

Dig deeper or let die? – The impact of drought on our farms

Fields on the farm, usually green, are turning yellow-ochre and gradually to red, that same deep red that marked the early Auroville landscape, barren land in need of healing. Trees are shedding their leaves and drop their half-ripe fruit, unable to find enough moisture to mature it. Cows are grazing on parched earth, while providing fodder for them is getting harder by the day, a shifting balance between scarce materials. Borewells are running slow, clogging the pumps with sand, alarming signs that the aquifer is rapidly dropping. One of Auroville’s farms has had its well running dry seven times in a single month, and it is not an exception.

Farmers are used to living with the cycles of life and death and the fragility of nature; yet the present drought and the distress it brings on plants and creatures is hard to witness. Which of our fields do we stop watering, is the frequent dilemma; which crops do we let die…?! Apart from the heart-ache and loss of time, there is of course the financial stress. Unlike farmers elsewhere in South India, Auroville’s farmers are not covered by a scheme that compensates for loss of crops. They are left to fend for themselves, or appeal to the solidarity of their fellow farmers or the community at large.

Very recently, one such situation was brought to the community’s attention on AVNet. One of our farmers had planted a sesame crop when the well from which it was being irrigated started giving signs of failing. The choice: Either letting the crop die, or else spending half a lakh to push the pump further down the well in the hope of getting the needed water.

As Priya wrote: “Some of us feel that to go on extracting more water from what is an already fragile and over stretched aquifer is not what we should be doing. In Auroville we should be seeing how we can use less water both in our agriculture, commercial production and swimming pools/gardens. We need Auroville to provide an example of action that seeks to support the aquifer for the future, not drill deeper wells to take out as much water as we can now. We feel it would be better if this crop was allowed to die and [the farmer] compensated for his loss, rather than deepen the well and take even more water out from under our feet. […] If we do not get enough community support on the issue, we feel that we will have no option but to allow [X] to push the pump further down the well. Even though this is against our basic principle of sustaining our most precious resource – water.” An appeal was launched to FAMC and directly to the community, but so far with very scarce results...

Lowering pumps, deepening borewells and digging new ones is exactly what is happening all around us. The demand is such that suppliers of GI pipes for borewells in Pondy have run out of stock, and are giving out tokens on a first-come first-serve basis! While everybody knows how short-sighted and suicidal the policy is, free electricity for farmers continues to allow water extraction without any cap; Annapurna has in the past seen their large rainwater catchment pond filled to 90% with the mere run-off of the water pumped non-stop by the neighbouring farm! AuroOrchard has in its direct neighbourhood a large water-bottling factory. It takes 6 litres of water for every one litre of bottled water – and that’s beside the problems of the plastic! An estimated dozen-or-so more water bottling plants are said to be operating illegally in the area…

Against this backdrop, whatever water savings Auroville can achieve seems obviously a drop on a hot stone. (Naturally, it was easier to see the success of our water conservation / percolation measures preventing floods during a super-monsoon than keeping water in our aquifers during a drought, due to the natural movement of water following gravity!) And yet, this one drop can make a vital difference in terms of setting a working example of what can and must be done. We agree with Priya that Auroville has the mandate of showing a way forward, and there is a lot we can and must improve in our infrastructures and daily practices / habits. It’s great to have a Water Group and we salute their and other community members’ initiatives. But to make these efforts fruitful, it takes the active collaboration of all of us, collectively and individually!

The other big question brought into focus by the drought is how we relate to our farms as a community. Most of our farmers feel that they are struggling to survive, largely unsupported by our collective. Our consumer-centred food supply systems with their ‘open-market’ approach puts our farmers into competition with a skewed and artificial market field, dominated by the politics of the global agro-industries: the ‘mainstream’ world we all know, where price is the bottom line, while quality, health and sustainability are reduced to fringe luxuries for the privilieged few. Are we ready at last to put our values first, and creatively build the systems of a more real world? Sure, the challenges are complex and tough; but the change is happening, experiments are burgeoning all over the world… while the world is watching and waiting for Auroville to embrace its ideals and ground them in its vibrant red soil!

Auroville Green Center (Jasmin, Lisbeth & Isabelle)

We welcome green news from Auroville, the Bioregion, India and the world. Write to us at avgreencenter (at)