web analytics

A Tale of Two Droughts

Written By: - Date published: 6:38 pm, June 22nd, 2016 - 44 comments
Categories: climate change, community democracy, farming, sustainability, water - Tags: , , , , , ,

Crippling drought in central India leaves millions on brink”

parched dam

This is how the MSM headlines the story. The area of Marathwada is being hit by low rainfall due to climate change. That there is less rainfall is not in doubt, but also underlying the drought are other factors more immediately in the control of humans.

As well as issues of mismanagement, politics and industry there are vicious cycles. One is the pressure on farmers to use their land for cash cropping and thus surrender their food sovereignty. Instead of growing crops appropriate to the climate and landscape to produce food for themselves and selling surplus to their community, the market dictates they grow export crops like sugar cane or cotton that need much more water. In drought years the farmers take on debt to increase irrigation. Eventually they have too many low rainfall/crop failure years in a row and can no longer service their debt. Suicide is becoming more common, and people migrate away to take jobs in the city. Another cycle is that the less rainfall there is, the more wells are dug, which leads to further lowering of the water table, making the area even less resistant to drought as the land dries out.

But this is an area with an average annual rainfall of 600 – 800mm. This is not arid country (e.g. Dunedin gets 726mm). Even with climate change there are still quantities of water falling on the ground.

Here’s another headline, one we don’t see,

“Village uses co-operation and water harvesting to thrive in drought conditions” 

Drought-Programme1

Hiware Bazar is a village of 1300 people and lies in the same general drought-prone area of Central India but is much drier. In the 1980s, after decades of crop failures, the village designed a collective water management system that restored agriculture and enabled multiple social and economic benefits for the local people.

The key principles are this (system explanation here, starts at 4:40):

  • When you store water within the landscape it stays there for long periods of time, increasing fertility, preventing topsoil loss from fast run off, reducing flooding, and making the water available even during low rainfall times.
  • Hiware Bazar has an annual rainfall of 400mm (that’s dry by NZ standards, think a bit more than Alexandra, which is our driest city). The monsoon pattern of rainfall means that it falls in large amounts at a time. This rain can be harvested.
  • Multiple passive water harvesting technologies were used across the whole watershed, taking advantage of the periodic high rainfall.
  • The village came together and worked on the solutions collectively. It depended on everyone agreeing to harvest water and to stop taking water from bores.

In the upper reaches of the catchment water is harvested by ponds, contour trenches and mass tree plantings. These store water in the ground beneath them which both hydrates the soil enabling plant growth, and eventually replenishes the water table. This then in turn revives the wells in the village.

water harvesting 1

water harvesting 2

In the middle reaches, small earthen berms (bunds) are built to catch any run off from the catchment above. Water either infiltrates the land (and further recharges the water table), or is stored in channels beside the berms.

bunds

In the lower reaches flat farmed land is surrounded by berms so that rainwater is trapped and seeps into the soil. They also use storage dams.

storage

In addition to the food growing areas, similar techniques are used beside the village, leading to the amount of irrigated land rising from 40 ha in 1992 to 550 ha in 2009.

“When we did not have water we had nothing. And now that we have water we have everything”

As well using sustainable technologies, the changes were made possible by cooperation and collective decision making. The village set limits on bores that allowed the groundwater to rise from 18m deep to 4.5m. The village council measures the level of water in wells and storage tanks and then decides on what crops are appropriate to grow that season. Villagers have agreed to not grow water-intensive crops. Even with low rainfall of 250 – 300 mm, they can still crop potatoes and onions.

Changes to stock grazing have increased grass production for fodder from 100 tonnes to 8,000 tonnes, resulting in better prosperity for the local dairy co-operative. Flow on benefits include solar power, sanitation projects, and biomass plants for fuel, electricity and manure. Economic migrant families returned to their land from the cities. One member of the village council describes themselves as being free from climate change threats, and attributes this to having worked collectively for the past 20 years.

These are medium and long term strategies for sustainable management and creating resiliency in the face of climate change. They don’t help the people in immediate need of aid, but it’s worth knowing that in the first year Hiware Bazar tripled its area of irrigated land and that such systems can be put in place within a few years. Much of what we call drought is mismanagement of both land and water resources. Despite the geographical, political and cultural differences the lessons for New Zealand are glaring and salient.

44 comments on “A Tale of Two Droughts ”

  1. Draco T Bastard 1

    In drought years the farmers take on debt to increase irrigation. Eventually they have too many low rainfall/crop failure years in a row and can no longer service their debt. Suicide is becoming more common, and people migrate away to take jobs in the city.

    You forgot about the banks then foreclosing on the property making the local populace even more insecure.

    One member of the village council describes themselves as being free from climate change threats, and attributes this to having worked collectively for the past 20 years.

    Cooperation builds societies and makes everyone better off. Competition destroys societies and makes only a few rich while others are in poverty.

    Despite the geographical, political and cultural differences the lessons for New Zealand are glaring and salient.

    Yep. We need to copy this for the sake of our own environment. Replant the tops of hills with trees/forests, riparian planting along streams and waterways and stop using artificial fertiliser.

  2. Bill 2

    Prior to colonisation, India apparently had extensive water management systems under local control and had successfully fed a huge population for a long, long time. A lot of it (just as mentioned in the post) involved retaining rain water above ground. Anyway, the British, in their infinite wisdom, centralised the control of water, sidelined locals and their inter-generational knowledge and essentially fucked up a lot of places.

    I was given a very interesting short doco on Indian village water systems a wee while back that highlighted the historical context and the current struggle to wrest control away from the still centralised Indian bureaucracy – a colonial hangover.

    One problem was that the knowledge of many of the land’s subtle intricacies has been lost now.

    By the way, not sure about comparing the likes of Dunedin to Marathwada on a straight mm of rain basis – one is in a temperate region and the other relies on monsoon rains.

    • weka 2.1

      That makes sense. One of the links near the start goes to an article about mismanagement of the big dams in the area, which I assume is a hang over from the historical problems. I didn’t focus on that because big dams won’t solve the problems (and will probably make it worse), so it’s great to get some perspective on the pre-industrial systems (schwen below too).

      Re the Dunedin comparison, the thing about sustainable water harvesting is that it stores water over long periods of time. Good sustainability design will take into account local factors e.g. monsoon patterns, or deluge cycles that Dunedin gets more often now. If this was being done in the Dunedin area you’d have to look at things like flood mitigation, and at other times less rainfall in single events therefore more propensity for evaporation. In other places in NZ it’s the NW wind that causes intense evaporation even where there is rainfall. All those things can be accommodated in good design. The value in a local comparison is to demonstrate that shortage of rainfall is not the main problem here or there, which was what I wanted to highlight in the post.

  3. schwen 3

    Apparently, these water harvesting arrangements are not a new innovation, but were very common in pre-British India. During colonial rule, the system was allowed to decay, with ponds and dams silting up and irrigation canals choked with weeds. The British were too reliant on ground water, and even quite lately, cheap or subsidised electricity meant that ground water was pumped with reckless abandon. This is an example of a return to tried and true centuries old technology that works for it’s context. The depletion of the North American and Chinese ground water resources beneath their great plains will be the next disaster to watch unfold.

    • weka 3.1

      Thanks, that’s so good to hear. Bill has said something similar above. I wrote the post from watching the video, which didn’t go into the where they got the tech from. But there seems to have been quite a lot written about the village (and it’s been doing this for a reasonable length of time), so it would be interesting to find out. What you and Bill are saying makes sense, that the knowledge of that would still be in the culture.

      The US and Chinese situations are interesting because they also have their own examples of good sustainability and land restoration design. Might do another post at some point on that.

    • Irrigation canals, ponds and canals is the wrong approach to water management.
      They invariably “silt up” and the communities they support, collapse.

      • jcuknz 3.2.1

        A good point Robert except that your point applies to when the hills are barren.
        [Cromwell Gorge]
        But if the harvesting and planting is done of the hills there will be less erosion/silt to fill the dam.
        So rather than the grapevines I saw last time in some small areas there were permanent trees planted from top to bottom the no silting would occur. at least if the re-forestation took place in the areas up stream of the dam.
        A sadly humorous story “dumb westerners v. canny orientals” ?

        • Robert Guyton 3.2.1.1

          That’s right, jcuknz, once the hills are barren, a great deal has been lost. I don’t believe, however, that irrigation in the form of engineered dams, canals, dikes, reticulation, pipes, booms and so on, is the suitable approach to water management in any landscape. Forcing horticultural development through the use of such technologies leads to eventual exhaustion of the soils and water resource, as history has demonstrated time and time again. The “Taoist” methods I alluded to approach the issue of water (pun) differently, looking to not interfere with natural movement of water through the soil, but to maximise it and regard it as a treasure. We in the Western world seem to want always to tap, draw, redirect, capture, contain, constrain, amass, control, commodify etc. water for our own gain, rather than ruminate upon how it is maximise its own value naturally. I guess we want to turn it into money because we believe we know how to control that. As a consequence, we boast some very impressive deserts world wide and New Zealand has produced some fine examples of ruined landscape that could have/should have been managed differently. Starting from a Central Otago type of situation, dessicated and boney, is a challenge I wish we didn’t face, but we do. Growing grapes there in order to produce wine to dull our growing disquiet about what we’ve done is one thing, but not a very good thing, in my view; “In vino veritas, in aqua sanitas” and all that. The Romans did a lot of work with reticulation, and that’s heralded as a Great Thing, but I don’t agree. This present Government, like the Romans, believes that reigning-in water, controlling it and portioning it out (to its own people) is the way to secure the wealth of the land, but they are wrong. The earliest arrivals to these cloudy isles called themselves Wai Taha, the water bearers, and would have been disgusted by the way we’ve messed with what they considered sacred. Those that are still here, are, as I understand 🙂

          • weka 3.2.1.1.1

            You might want to be more specific about techniques Robert. Taoist is a bit obscure. I get that you are wanting to point to underlying philosophies and how they affect the tools and systems one uses, but I think many people won’t be getting what the difference is.

            I point to swales as something obvious that people can get their heads around in terms of understanding about keeping water within the landscape.

            Concrete examples of what’s the difference between one system’s use of water compared to say channels and ponds would be good.

            • Robert Guyton 3.2.1.1.1.1

              Ok. Store water in soil. To do that, encourage the organisms that create the medium that holds water molecules. To do that, stop using biocides that kill those organisms. Feed them. They like wood. Grow plants that have deep roots. Annuals are traditional by perennials are better. Don’t steal water from streams, rivers or aquifers – they are doing their job and supporting their populations, you’ve no business taking their stuff. Attract water to your catchment, if it has been messed with (they’ve all been messed with). Grow trees. Trees are pumps. They create clouds. Rain falls from clouds. Rain is good.

            • Robert Guyton 3.2.1.1.1.2

              Cover your soil with a thatch of mulch, living and having-lived. Don’t import mulch – you are stealing it from an environment that utilizes it. Grow your own. Plant wind shelter. Wind steals water from the soil. Cutting down trees is a greater problem than is realised. Don’t cultivate. Water exits soil fast when it is ploughed. Plant into mulch. Don’t use any “icides” at all. All of them are life-takers. More life is the way. Life needs water. Do both in unison.

  4. Colonial Viper 4

    An outstanding post weka. Thank you.

  5. Bill 5

    Series of in-depth articles on Marathwada and other areas here that essentially echo what’s being said in the post…

    http://www.downtoearth.org.in/coverage/in-depth-coverage-drought-54343#2

    • weka 5.1

      Wow, there is a lot in there. The thing about digging down stream beds is scary. We are so complacent in NZ about our rivers going dry, as if it’s a nothing.

      • Corokia 5.1.1

        Well the National / Fed farmers view seems to be that any water that reaches the coast is wasted, so they may be complacent about rivers running dry.
        However, where I live the river is the water supply for the town ( as well as being essential for the health of the estuary ) so the river running dry would NOT be a “nothing” , it would be considered extremely serious .

  6. mauī 6

    Very similar to Bill Mollison’s permaculture concept where one of the main ideas is to slow water travelling through the landscape as much as possible. Completely foreign to our farmland here where you see mostly grassy hillsides and a little bit of native vegetation regnerating in the gullies and few attempts to harvest water.

  7. Sabine 7

    this was a good read. Food for thinking.

  8. Pat 8

    Good post…..see this is a village of 1300 …have always thought that small is better, far more chance of cooperation,less chance of exploitation and corruption, in fact the only downside of small is the inability to fight off big.

    • weka 8.1

      Me too. Once you get so big that people can’t know each other or feel the impacts of decisions made you get a kind of disconnection.

      One of the inspiring things is the village was about to make these changes themselves. I’m not sure how possible that is once you get really big.

      • vto 8.1.1

        It’s easy weka, you vote in representatives who make decisions on our behalf ……..

      • “One of the inspiring things is the village was about to make these changes themselves. I’m not sure how possible that is once you get really big.”
        Divide the “really big” into a series of “small enough”. A town is a cluster of villages, a city a clumping of towns.

    • b waghorn 8.2

      The rural village is dead , not sure if it was always the plan to clear small farmers from rural nz ,but we are rapidly heading to a country of lords and serfs out here.
      big farms with minimal staff numbers means that the sort of management it would take to farm in a truly eco freindly manner is not possible.

  9. Haikai Tane and Taoist farming.

  10. Is your own garden rich with water-holding humus?
    If not, why not?
    Charity, you know where it starts!

  11. stunned mullet 11

    Just like to say Robert I really like your positivity and abundance of green thinking !

  12. Very kind, Stunned. It’s the organic food, clean drinking water and night-long sleep that does it. And the home-made cider does no harm either 🙂

  13. One Two 13

    An excellent article, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Thank You

    Very good to read of successful solutions

  14. There’s a pretty clear connection between the huge amount of topsoil being carried along by the Manawatu River every time it rains, and all those Central Hawkes Bay hills that have been denuded of trees and are covered in slips. Our approach to this is moronic.

  15. Jenny Kirk 15

    Great article, Weka. Lots of food for thought there.
    Wouldn’t it be great if some of our local authorities had the imagination, the intellect to do the research, and then the will-power to get on with doing the sort of thing mentioned in your article. ECAN for instance – could do this. but maybe even better, perhaps some of those big dairy farms could be converted back to their natural state for grain or tussock. And similarly examples such as those mentioned above in 6, 8, 14.

Recent Comments

Recent Posts

  • Equitable response to Omicron vital
    The Green Party supports the Government’s decision to move Aotearoa New Zealand to traffic light level Red at 11.59pm tonight, but says its success will depend on the support that is made available to the most vulnerable. ...
    7 hours ago
  • How we’re preparing for Omicron
    As countries around the world experience Omicron outbreaks, we’re taking steps now to ensure we’re as prepared as possible and our communities are protected. ...
    3 days ago
  • What’s Labour achieved so far?
    Quite a bit! This Government was elected to take on the toughest issues facing Aotearoa – and that’s what we’re doing. Since the start of the pandemic, protecting lives and livelihoods has been a priority, but we’ve also made progress on long-term challenges, to deliver a future the next generation ...
    1 week ago
  • Tackling the big issues in 2022
    This year, keeping Kiwis safe from COVID will remain a key priority of the Government – but we’re also pushing ahead on some of New Zealand’s biggest long-term challenges. In 2022, we’re working to get more Kiwis into homes, reduce emissions, lift children out of poverty, and ensure people get ...
    2 weeks ago

  • New Zealand to move to Red from 11.59pm today
    All of New Zealand will move to the Red setting of the Covid Protection Framework (CPF) at 11:59pm today as Omicron is potentially now transmitting in the community, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says. “Nine COVID-19 cases reported yesterday in the Nelson/Marlborough region are now confirmed as Omicron, and a further ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    5 hours ago
  • Mandatory boosters for key workforces progressing well
    More than 5,785 (82%) border workers eligible for a booster vaccination at 6 months have received it so far, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says. “That’s a really strong uptake considering we announced the requirement the week before Christmas, but we need to continue this momentum,” Chris Hipkins said. “We ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    5 hours ago
  • NZ to move to Red
    Nine COVID-19 cases reported yesterday in the Nelson/Marlborough region have now been confirmed as the Omicron variant, and a further case from the same household was confirmed late yesterday. These cases are in a single family that flew to Auckland on 13 January to attend a wedding and other events ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    7 hours ago
  • New Zealand to provide further help for Tonga
    Aotearoa New Zealand is giving an additional $2 million in humanitarian funding for Tonga as the country recovers from a volcanic eruption and tsunami last weekend, Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta and Defence Minister Peeni Henare said today. This brings Aotearoa New Zealand’s contribution to $3 million. “This support will ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 days ago
  • Quarterly benefit numbers show highest number of exits into work
    The Government’s strong focus on supporting more people into work is reflected in benefit figures released today which show a year-on-year fall of around 21,300 people receiving a main benefit in the December 2021 quarter, Minister for Social Development and Employment Carmel Sepuloni said. “Our response to COVID has helped ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 days ago
  • Northland to move to Orange, NZ prepared for Omicron 
    Northland to move to Orange Rest of New Zealand stays at Orange in preparedness for Omicron All of New Zealand to move into Red in the event of Omicron community outbreak – no use of lockdowns Govt planning well advanced – new case management, close contact definition and testing rules ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 days ago
  • RNZAF C-130 Hercules flight departs for Tonga as Navy vessels draw nearer to Tongatapu
    A Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 Hercules has departed Base Auckland Whenuapai for Tonga carrying aid supplies, as the New Zealand aid effort ramps up, Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta and Defence Minister Peeni Henare said today. “The aircraft is carrying humanitarian aid and disaster relief supplies, including water ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 days ago
  • New Zealand prepared to send support to Tonga
    New Zealand is ready to assist Tonga in its recovery from Saturday night’s undersea eruption and tsunami, Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta and Defence Minister Peeni Henare said today. “Following the successful surveillance and reconnaissance flight of a New Zealand P-3K2 Orion on Monday, imagery and details have been sent ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    5 days ago
  • Aotearoa New Zealand stands ready to assist people of Tonga
    The thoughts of New Zealanders are with the people of Tonga following yesterday’s undersea volcanic eruption and subsequent tsunami waves, Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta says. “Damage assessments are under way and New Zealand has formally offered to provide assistance to Tonga,” said Nanaia Mahuta. New Zealand has made an ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • Record high of new homes consented continues
    In the year ended November 2021, 48,522 new homes were consented, up 26 per cent from the November 2020 year. In November 2021, 4,688 new dwellings were consented. Auckland’s new homes consented numbers rose 25 per cent in the last year. Annual figures for the last nine months show more ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • Report trumpets scope for ice cream exports
    Latest research into our premium ice cream industry suggests exporters could find new buyers in valuable overseas markets as consumers increasingly look for tip top quality in food. Economic Development Minister Stuart Nash has released a new report for the Food and Beverage Information Project. The project is run by ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Honouring the legacy of legendary kaumātua Muriwai Ihakara
    Associate Minister for Arts, Culture, and Heritage Kiri Allan expressed her great sadness and deepest condolences at the passing of esteemed kaumātua, Muriwai Ihakara. “Muriwai’s passing is not only a loss for the wider creative sector but for all of Aotearoa New Zealand. The country has lost a much beloved ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Have your say on proposed changes to make drinking water safer
    Associate Minister for the Environment Kiri Allan is urging all New Zealanders to give feedback on proposed changes aimed at making drinking water safer. “The current regulations are not fit for purpose and don’t offer enough protection, particularly for those whose water comes from smaller supplies,” Kiri Allan said. “This ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Planting the seeds for rewarding careers
    A boost in funding for a number of Jobs for Nature initiatives across Canterbury will provide sustainable employment opportunities for more than 70 people, Conservation Minister Kiri Allan says. “The six projects are diverse, ranging from establishing coastline trapping in Kaikōura, to setting up a native plant nursery, restoration planting ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • New Zealand congratulates Tonga's new Prime Minister on appointment
    Minister of Foreign Affairs Nanaia Mahuta today congratulated Hon Hu'akavameiliku Siaosi Sovaleni on being appointed Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Tonga. “Aotearoa New Zealand and Tonga have an enduring bond and the Kingdom is one of our closest neighbours in the Pacific. We look forward to working with Prime ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • High-tech investment extends drought forecasting for farmers and growers
    The Government is investing in the development of a new forecasting tool that makes full use of innovative climate modelling to help farmers and growers prepare for dry conditions, Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said.  The new approach, which will cost $200,000 and is being jointly funded through the Ministry for ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Support for fire-hit Waiharara community
    The government will contribute $20,000 towards a Mayoral Relief Fund to support those most affected by the fires in Waiharara in the Far North, Minister for Emergency Management Kiri Allan says. “I have spoken to Far North Mayor John Carter about the effect the fires continue to have, on residents ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 weeks ago
  • Manawatū’s ‘oases of nature’ receive conservation boost
    The Government is throwing its support behind projects aimed at restoring a cluster of eco-islands and habitats in the Manawatū which were once home to kiwi and whio. “The projects, which stretch from the Ruahine Ranges to the Horowhenua coastline, will build on conservation efforts already underway and contribute ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 weeks ago
  • New Zealand to continue Solomon Islands support
    A New Zealand Defence Force and Police deployment to help restore peace and stability to Solomon Islands is being scaled down and extended. The initial deployment followed a request for support from Solomon Islands Government after riots and looting in capital Honiara late last month. They joined personnel from Australia, ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 weeks ago