Sunday, January 11, 2009


This week, everyone is getting ready for the festival of Pongal. On January 14, the new year begins in Tamil Nadu. Up to this point, everyone has been growing rain-fed calorie crops, like finger millet and sorghum, and intensively irrigated crops like rice. Now the rain has stopped and the fields are drying out; Pongal is the time to celebrate the successful harvests and mark the passage from green fields and heavy yields to dry hills and drying wells.

Women in Namaleri carrying newly harvested rice sheaves to the thresher

Most farmers will have enough groundwater, from shallow open wells or deep borewells, to get at least one vegetable crop on part of their acreage. That crop lasts the first three months of the new year. It’s the next three months—April, May, and June—where water is really scarce. Until the monsoons start in mid-June, there’s no rain and so no outside replenishment of the groundwater. Some farmers are lucky enough to have a deep and productive borewell that still provides a trickle of water; they’ve got just enough time to fit in another 3-month vegetable crop before the rain-fed season begins. Most farmers, though, leave their dry fields empty and look for work off-farm. These two vegetable seasons, January to March and April to June, are the times when drip irrigation can make the largest difference. For a farmer with very limited water, the increased efficiency can mean two acres of vegetables in the first season instead of one. For farmers with deep borewells, drip irrigation could enable them to plant during both vegetable seasons instead of just the first. For those who are lucky enough to have water even in the driest part of the year, drip irrigation can increase the total area they’re able to irrigate in April, May and June, meaning more vegetables available in local markets, and, since these are labor-intensive crops, more local jobs available during the times when the most people are seeking off-farm employment.

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