Maharashtras’ Sindhudurg district is famous for its beautiful coastline, seafood, relaxed way of life and the much coveted Alphonso or Hapus Aam, known for its golden yellow color and non-fibrous juicy pulp.
The district has a coastline of 121 km, with about 14 creeks and close to 76900 hectares of agricultural land which is reported to be saline due to sea water ingress along the coast and creeks. Despite high rainfall of 3000+ mm/year, water scarcity is a major concern during the summers. Our village Girye, derived from Gheria meaning ‘surrounded by water’ has the Arabian Sea along one stretch and a creek across the other faces serious water challenges during the non-monsoon season.
Across the orchard, we have a mix of rocky laterite heavy flat land unable to hold water followed by a steep 45 degree slope. The heavy rains result in streams washing away the little soil and leaving the land exposed to nature, unable to nourish itself.
Without institutional support, building large water harvesting structures can be financially challenging. While mangoes are predominantly rainfed, the situation limits the scope to grow anything else. We wanted the financial viability to be driven by ecologically sound solutions.
Our first step was to grass different grass varieties along the barren shallow laterite spaces and use a chop and drop method across the rest of the land. Over the years, the grass has multiplied many folds, developed stronger roots and been able to slow down and control the flow of water. Streams are now puddles, replenishing ground water. The post monsoon chop and drop has over the years started adding organic matter and rebuilding topsoil.
The high canopy cover across other parts of the orchard has ensured that there is a steady supply of leaf cover on ground. Unlike earlier, when this was cleared and burnt, we now let it stay on the ground, thus taking the impact of the heavy rains, storing moisture and slowing the flow of water.
The presence of thick earthworms, visits by migratory birds and my first attempt crop of passion fruit are a welcome indicator of the changes in progress. In a region where most suggestions on trying to do things differently are met with a casual dismissal of ‘nai honar’, it is satisfying to demonstrate that it is possible to make change from within our boundaries.
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