Researchers in the Andaman & Nicobar islands off eastern India are working with farmers on land-shaping strategies that help them adapt to challenges such as extreme weather events, water shortages and limited land availability. In this video report, Sharada Balasubramanian explores how those solutions are impacting agricultural productivity and incomes in the archipelago.
The Andaman & Nicobar islands, one of the Union Territories of India, are an archipelago between the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal. They receive more than 3,000 cubic millimeters of rainfall every year, yet the islands face water shortages in summer.
After the 2004 tsunami, land subduction led to increased and fluctuating salinity in the soil while heavy rainfall led to severe waterlogging. For many years after the tsunami, farmers were unable to grow anything on the land.
There are no canals, dams or borewells on these islands and agriculture depends completely on the rains. Frequent cyclones and erratic rainfall due to the El Nino effect has damaged crops in recent years.
In an effort to address these problems, the Central Island Agriculture Research Institute (CIARI) assessed the islands’ climate change and agricultural vulnerability and came up with some climate-resilient, resource-conserving technologies.
One key solution was the land-shaping technique, where land is modified to save water, improving drainage, enabling rainwater harvesting and reducing salinity.
Because land available for farming is limited, scientists worked with the farmers to look at how they could maximize productivity. They also had to ensure that the solutions were localized, cost-effective, conserved natural resources, such as land, water and soil, and made farming financially sustainable.
After years of experimenting and testing, land-shaping solutions in the Andamans were standardized. Techniques like the three-tier farming system, broad bed and furrow system were implemented so farmers could farm throughout the year and there was enough water to grow crops.
By diversifying their cropping patterns, farmers were able to offset their losses after cyclones or heavy rainfall and distribute their income through vegetable cultivation, fish rearing and plantation crops. This ensured that their incomes were not dented heavily when unpredictable cyclones and other extreme weather conditions hit.
Sharada Balasubramanian was in the Andaman Islands to cover this story as part of Internews’ Earth Journalism Network’s Bay of Bengal Story Grants.
Banner image: Farmers in the Andaman Islands now reap profits from vegetable cultivation enhanced through land-shaping techniques.