Can DSR cultivation save Haryana’s groundwater? Farmers spearhead experiment

Can DSR cultivation save Haryana’s groundwater? Farmers spearhead experiment

Can DSR cultivation save Haryana’s groundwater? Farmers spearhead experiment

Paddy farmers in districts like Sirsa and Karnal are banking on big water savings from the direct sowing method of cultivation which also promises to improve groundwater if done on a large enough scale.

Chandigarh: A research paper on the effects of paddy crops, published by IIT Kanpur, states that the groundwater level in northwest India has fallen to alarming depths in the last four to five decades. The report attributed the exploitation of this common resource to paddy (rice) cultivation in the states of Punjab and Haryana. However, most farmers plaintively ask – if they stop paddy cultivation, then what else could they do?

In response, a few farmers in Haryana have deployed a novel solution. Instead of the traditional method of transplanting paddy, they are directly sowing it. This is called the Direct Seeded Rice (DSR) method. Experts say that this method reduces the need for irrigation by more than 50% to 70%.

Dr Virendra Singh Lather, the former Principal Scientist of Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi, explained that the transplantation method of cultivating paddy was started in Haryana and Punjab during the Green Revolution. In this method, paddy seeds are first sown in a nursery. The field is then prepared by swamping it with water to about one foot. Thirty irrigations are done per crop cycle and in each irrigation, 8 to 10 centimetres of water has to be deposited in the field. If the monsoons are normal, then rainwater is sufficient. Otherwise, farmers resort to irrigation using tube wells. The slightly grown seedlings are then uprooted and transplanted in the main field.

In DSR method, the farmers sow paddy seeds directly in the field like wheat. There is no necessity to swamp the field with water. The field needs to be irrigated only about ten times. 

Traditional versus Direct Sowing

In the traditional method, there is a requirement of about 3,000 to 5,000 litres (on average) per kg of paddy. This is largely dependent on the season as well as the land. When paddy is cultivated traditionally, during a hot summer or a heatwave, the water requirement will be more. Even after rainfall, the traditional method requires up to 3,000 litres per kg. On the contrary, if paddy is sown directly in the field, it takes only 800 to 1,000 litres of water per kg of paddy.

Agriculture Minister, JP Dalal said, “Since the beginning of paddy cultivation, farmers have been using the conventional method of transplanting crops in swampy land. There is a belief in their mind that if there is no water in the field, then cultivation cannot occur. Farmers don't want to change that. They fear that this may adversely affect the production of paddy. So, there is a need to break this association in the farmers’ collective psyche. Apart from this, they may also have a problem with weeds. The farmers who have adapted to the direct sowing method are certainly role models in saving water. The government appreciates their efforts.” The minister now wants to take this experiment to every farmer in the state as it will help in saving and replenishing groundwater levels.

On the back of dire warnings 

The Additional Director of the Haryana Agriculture Department, Suresh Gehlot told 101Reporters, “The groundwater level in 14 out of 22 districts of the state has crossed the warning level and has reached a dangerous situation. In 2004, the number of red category blocks in the state was 55. It has since increased to 85. This is 48 per cent of the state. Now we have to work on measures to save water. If this is not done, then in a few years the groundwater level in the state will worsen and it will be a near-impossible task to recharge the groundwater naturally.”

Rohit Chauhan, a student of B.Sc Agriculture at Amity University, Noida, is researching the water crisis in Haryana. He said, “There is no boundary for groundwater. The exploitation of groundwater for paddy cultivation by the farmers of Haryana can have an impact on the surrounding states as well. This can not only lead to a water crisis but also create a gap underground due to the absence of water. This can cause problems like cracking of the land. Therefore, the direct seeding method which is being used in paddy cultivation is a good effort.”

Sunil Kamboj, a 31-year-old farmer from Shaheedawala village in the Sirsa district, told 101Reporters, “The groundwater level in my village is rapidly going down. Every year a large number of tube wells are damaged because of depleting groundwater levels.” The problem he faces is that he is unable to give up paddy cultivation because no other crop flourishes during this season. Simply put, if the cultivation of paddy stopped, there would be an economic crisis. 

Kamboj then attended a seminar organised by the Agriculture Department. There he learnt about the DSR method which inspired him to experiment on his farm. Last year, he had sown paddy on just five acres of his land using the DSR method. The experiment was successful, saving him 30% to 40% on water. This encouraged him to implement the method on 40 acres. His success has now inspired ten farmers in his village to try the same in their fields.

Meher Singh, 55, another farmer of Shaheedawala village, said that the previous year when Sunil Kamboj was directly sowing paddy in his field, most of the other farmers were ridiculing him. He explained, “This was because they were only aware of the traditional method of planting paddy in fields that were flooded with water to make the land swampy. We could not understand this new experiment of directly sowing paddy. But when we saw the result, we were also enthusiastic. So, this time out of a total of ten acres of land, five acres have been used to directly sow paddy.”

Farmer Mehtab Kadian, 43, of Nagla village in Karnal district has directly sown paddy in 54 acres of his land. Kadian told 101 Reporters, “In the beginning, there is a learning curve. The DSR method requires a certain amount of care. The weather plays a big role. If water accumulates in the field, then the paddy does not germinate. Sometimes, there is also an excess of weeds. But it can be easily dealt with.” 

Kadian said that he was inspired to try direct sowing of paddy by Dr Lather. Though he was apprehensive, on Dr Lather’s encouragement, he tried the experiment in four acres of his land. The results were so promising that he used the entire land for the direct sowing of paddy. 

He is now motivating other farmers to do the same. He shared his enthusiasm with 101Reporters, “Farmers learn by watching each other. Therefore, I am presenting a model, teaching other farmers about this. Surely next year, a large number of farmers will take to the direct sowing of paddy in Haryana.”

Dr Lather is hopeful as well of more farmers trying DSR on a larger scale from next year. Having witnessed some successful crops this year, many farmers are enquiring about this technique, he said. Considering it takes time for such techniques to proliferate, first embraced by progressive farmers on the lookout for new technologies, the government will also need to step in to speed up adoption, he said, particularly reaching out to young farmers. 

This article is a part of a 101Reporters' series on The Promise Of Commons. In this series, we will explore how judicious management of shared public resources can help the ecosystem as well as the communities inhabiting it.

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