NALBARI, March 4 � An ingenious blend of traditional knowledge and modern techniques have made irrigation available to a sizeable number of farmers in Nalbari and Baksa districts. A project implemented by Gramya Vikas Mancha (GVM), a leading NGO, has rejuvenated and extended the artificial canals called dongs, bringing water to some of the driest areas close to the Bhutan foothills.
Today, nearly 50 per cent of land in Baksa and a smaller area in Nalbari district have been served by the dongs, as mentioned by locals. �Yes, in places drinking water is still scarce, but water for irrigation has become a reality even during the dry season,� said Suramoni Neopane, a beneficiary.
He and others describe their area as peculiar because even though it has streams and rivulets, a little distance away the water table drops drastically and wells are of no use. This was the reason that their forefathers had to come up with a network of canals and bunds created by participatory action.
First the locals relied on the arterial water bodies and dug smaller ones to irrigate the fields. As the population rose, more canals were developed and bunds made in strategic places. The site selection of routes and control measures were developed to the extent that rules and regulations were made on the control of water flow.
Identifying the inherent strength of the network, GVM came up with the idea of improving and extending the infrastructure. With financial support from the Jamshedji Tata Trust, the NGO brought in new inputs, which included GPS data and concrete structures. These and other measures significantly raised the efficiency of the canals and bunds.
A spin-off of the entire effort has been better understanding among the many participating communities, who understand each other�s requirements of water for irrigation. The occasional disputes are settled amicably by the people who have formed committees.
Prithibhushan Deka, the current president of GVM, told The Assam Tribune, �What we see today is the consequence of participatory action at the community level involving several stakeholders. And so far we have seen the participants become more confident and hopeful.� Deka believes that the network thus created can be replicated in other dry areas with similar terrain and soil conditions.
The villagers, who met this reporter at Arampur, said that better water distribution has improved the livelihood prospects of at least 150 families living in proximity to a single dong. The families have more income by growing additional crops. However, they require more support from the Agriculture Department, particularly in the area of horticulture. Horticultural crops can be easily grown in the area, but farmers need better knowledge inputs as well as market links.