Monday, March 23, 2009

The last week in India

As I write this, I’m back in California already, trying to adjust to much colder weather and a very different pace of life. But even though I’m a week behind in the telling, I’ve still got lots to share about our last week in India.

Peter arrived on the 12th of March, along with a cameraman, Prasad, and his assistant, Hiranya, from Hyderabad. We picked up Dr. Sreedharan, who’s from Thalli but works in Bangalore, and headed for the hills of Krishnagiri district to talk to our pilot farmers one last time—and get their input recorded on tape. With Dr. Sreeharan doing the official translations from Tamil and Kannada into English, and Telugu language conversations flying between our Hyderabadians and the farmers, we finally got a clearer picture of what our farmers think of driptech’s low-cost irrigation.

Peter interviews P. Rama Reddy, secretary of a local farmer’s group, about drip irrigation; Prasad is filming, while Hiranya (hiding in the carrots) covers lighting and sound.

Over and over again, our farmers said they liked drip for the same three reasons: less water, less work, and less weeding. They said the irrigation uses much less water than their traditional method of irrigation, channeling water into furrows and basins. It also takes much less labor to use: with the drip system, the farmer fills the tank (or connects the system to the pump, for larger fields), opens the valve, and that’s it. While the water flows through the laterals and out to the plants, the farmers usually do a walk-through and make sure everything’s working right: the pressure is even and sufficient across the system, no laterals are kinked, and no holes are blocked. They say this is much easier than the constant monitoring it takes to water by furrow, where they have to carefully gauge how much water is flowing to each section, and open and close the mud walls of their irrigation channels to ensure that each section gets enough water to last until the next irrigation, but not so much water that the topsoil is eroded and the plants’ roots exposed. Lastly, weeds: the farmers say that they’re doing a lot less weeding in their drip irrigation plots. Because the water is delivered directly to the base of the crop plants, fewer weed seeds germinate, and those that do don’t grow as quickly.

At the end of our week of interviews, it was hard to say goodbye to everyone. Now they’re on their own with the drip irrigation. We’ve left a repair kit with Anand: he’s got extra starters, grommets, connectors, and the last of the solvent cement. Now we take a step back and see how well the system works when we’re not on hand to fix problems as they arise. We’ll be back next January, though, at the end of the one-year trial, to see what’s worked and what hasn’t; what’s changed and what needs to be changed; and which of our farmers is ready to try drip irrigation on a larger scale.

Sunset over Murgesh’s drip-irrigated field in Dippanur

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