Young Kashmiri farmers turn water-wise to adapt to climate change

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India Climate Dialogue, Kashmir

Early this year, the irrigation department of Kashmir issued an advisory to farmers in the northern districts to avoid growing rice in the wake of a dry winter, which followed an extended drought of over four months. Some farmers paid heed but most decided to go ahead and plant their crops despite the advisory. 

Tariq Ahmad, a young, educated farmer at his farm in Maloora in Kashmir / Credit: Athar Parvaiz

Today, at the onset of autumn, which heralds the beginning of paddy harvesting, only around 25% of rice land has suffered due to drought, according to Kashmir’s agriculture department. The department’s information officer, Naseer Ahmad Lone, said there are drought-affected areas in Kupwara district, which is far to the north, but Baramulla and Bandipora districts have been unaffected.

According to reports received by the agriculture department, Lone said, almost the entire 141,000 hectares where rice is grown in Kashmir has not suffered due to lack of water.

“A number of factors helped farmers cultivating paddy, which needs a lot of water for irrigation," Lone told indiaclimatedialogue.net. "In some areas, streams had not dried up, while in some areas stored water served the farmers’ needs." 

Young adapters

Given high rates of unemployment in the Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir, a number of young entrepreneurs in Kashmir have taken to growing vegetables. Jammu and Kashmir has the highest unemployment rate in India. In many parts of Kashmir, youth are harvesting water to cope with the region's frequent water shortages and, as a result, are running successful agricultural businesses.

Tariq Ahmad has more than an acre of land on which he grows vegetables fed by water-harvesting ponds on his land.

“We never face any water crisis because of these ponds,” said Ahmad, who is a postgraduate.

He's dug three deep ponds at a cost of more than Rs70,000 (US$960), but he earns more than Rs300,000 (US$4,120) annually from his land, thanks to the water-harvesting infrastructure he has created around his vegetable farm.

Each pond in his vegetable farm is over 700 square feet and is more than 10 feet deep.

“We purposely make them deeper so that they retain more water and the sunlight doesn’t affect them that quickly,” Ahmad told indiaclimatedialogue.net.

Another young farmer, Naseer Mir, said that he has started raising fish in his ponds.

“Last year we had a good crop of fish, some of which were stolen," he said. "That prompted us to put a network of barbed wire over our ponds."

Even seasoned farmers in the area are happy about the way these young agriculturalists have created simple water-harvesting infrastructure on their farms.

A young Kashmiri farmer working in his field / Credit: Athar Parvaiz

Dotted with ponds, these farms are a good example of how water harvesting can make a huge difference in agricultural production, especially at a time when extreme weather events like droughts are becoming more frequent.

“I produce vegetables worth Rs300,000 a year thanks to the ponds, which I have dug on my land,” said Abdul Rashid, a farmer in Panzinara on the outskirts of Srinagar.

In north Kashmir, many farmers near the apple town of Sopore and farther north in Kupwara also rely on harvested rainwater for irrigation.

“I grow vegetables all year for my home and for sale as well with the help of a small pond which I have kept for harvesting rainwater,” said Mohammad Shaban, a farmer in Seelu-Sopore.

Investment in water-harvesting needed

Experts say that if storing of rainwater that the region receives so frequently is taken care of, the stored water can irrigate most of the agricultural land.

According to a recent economic survey, only 41 percent of Kashmir’s agricultural land has irrigation facilities. The rest of the land depends on rainfall.

“The only thing the government and the farmers need to do is create water-holding infrastructure like ponds in and around the farms for harvesting rainwater,” said Saqib Qadri, a Srinagar-based environmentalist who advises companies and governments on capacity building.

“The government of Jammu and Kashmir needs to engage appropriate experts for devising appropriate designs in different areas for rainwater harvesting,” Qadri told indiaclimatedialogue.net.

According to Kashmir’s well-known glaciologist and climate change expert, Shakil Romshoo, who heads the Earth Sciences Department at Kashmir University, water availability in Kashmir is manageable if the government helps the farmers store water by investing in water-harvesting infrastructure.

“The water supply problem we witness in some parts of the state is not intrinsically due to the depleting water resources, but it has more to do with the inadequate water infrastructure, management and governance,” Romshoo said. “There is a need for an informed and long-term strategy to optimally utilize our precious water resources in light of the changing climate and depleting cryosphere [such as snow and glaciers].”

This story was produced with support from the Earth Journalism Network's 2018 Asia-Pacific Story Grant.