Climate change hit Sundarbans farmers reshaping land

Sundarbans: Hit hard by the adverse impact of climate change, farmers in the remote islands of Sundarbans are now trying out unique sustainable agriculture means by reshaping their land.

The new farming technique involves converting a part of agriculture land into a pond for irrigation and pisciculture. By using rain water harvesting and vermicompost, made from earthworms, agricultural productivity of the land is increased.

58-year-old farmer Arun Maity of Ramganga village in South 24 Paraganas district told PTI that with high levels of salinity in soil and water it is difficult to survive with traditional farming and irrigation techniques.

"Farmers in the Sundarbans also have to contend with climate change. A majority of the crops they cultivate are highly sensitive to changes in temperature or unseasonal rainfall," says a recent report by the Delhi-based research body Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

An archipelago of more than a hundred islands, Sundarbans is a UNESCO World Heritage site famed for hosting the  world's largest mangrove forest and the Royal Bengal Tigers.

As returns from agriculture have started dwindling due to climate change in the vulnerable forest-villages, farmers are slowly adopting themselves to the technology of land shaping where agriculture marries pisciculture.

Fed by rain water harvesting, the pond is used to keep fish and prawns throughout the year. The pond catches rainwater, which is vital for domestic use and irrigating the agricultural field adjacent to it during the dry winter and summer seasons.

With financial and technical assistance from Sundarban Social Development Centre (SSDC) and international NGO Save the Children, a number of farmers like Maity are using the land shaping technique.

Alf of Maity's 0.5 bigha plot which was so far used only for rice cultivation was converted into a pond by digging out soil and filling it up with rain water. "Rain water is sweet and so can be used for irrigation. But the soil here is salty so we don't dig the pond too deep," says Maity.

Over-dependance on the monsoon rains, farmers suffer from paucity of the availability of sweet water for irrigation as the river water is increasingly turning saline.  Due to small land holdings and limited potential to develop irrigation facilities in the absence of electricity to operate motor pumps, it is difficult to practise multi-crops.  Now with the availability of water supply throughout the year and by using green manure and vermicompost, the farmers can grow multiple crops, fruits and vegetables.

Another farmer Gor Hari Pradhan, who adopted the new technique this year, says he expects his income to increase manifold from next year as a result.