Recovering farmland in 120 villages

Reviving farms after floods in Tamil Nadu

After the Nov 2015 floods in Tamil Nadu, “the goal is to reclaim all the 120+ villages in time for the sowing season….” writes Vidya Palanaswamy on the collaboration of AID with Revathi.

Lost homes, broken embankments, 8-10 feet of sand deposited by the floods in the fields altering the contours (and soil type) making agricultural lands as they know it, barely recognizable and their annual crop destroyed completely on the 11 month. ‘What next?’- the big question that the calm after storm was screaming at them; for some it was rather “is there a next?” Such was the plight of farmers in 120+ villages in Cuddalore district, last December (2015).  The cries were but faintly heard for alas! the farmers don’t have technology on their side to make their voices heard, when compared to city dwellers.

Be it deforestation, lack of maintenance of water bodies, non-existent flood plains, long-lost traditional practices or global warming, the farming communities are the first to get affected. The combination of all these is what led to the devastation in Cuddalore.  It took a team like Revathi & Inspire to act swiftly, understanding that it is exactly in adverse times like this, that we need to stand by the farmers, and NOT after they become numbers in the media – stating how many quit farming or how many took their unbearable lives off this earth.

Revathi’s team with support from AID, started mobilizing local farmers in every village to form groups to supervise the land reclamation project.

Revathi devised systematic action including reclaiming lands, strengthening embankments, creating water drainage systems in the fields to prevent future flooding, formulating green manure and training farmers with sustainable organic farming practices. She and her team involved as many people as possible from affected farmers to resource persons in horticulture, agriculture and  engineering departments and from the District Collector’s team.  Along with the farmers she came up with a comprehensive plan  to initiate such a seemingly impossible massive project that the departments were skeptical of executing, all the while assuring farmers that she and the Inspire team would be with them for at least two seasons after the reclamation.  This eased some apprehension among the farmers over the (now unfamiliar) soil type that has completely changed after the sand deposits got mixed in the fields,even if the lands are indeed reclaimed.

But it wasn’t until the first week of Jan (2016) when AID’s pilot project happened with all the department representatives and farmer groups in Visur village on site, that the lost ray of hope bounced back to the farmers. The farmers who were skeptical earlier farmers now could not believe that things could happen so quickly and that some “stranger” who came out of nowhere could indeed pull this off in such short a time, working for them and pushing them to work harder for themselves.

 The word spread like fire and neighboring villagers started coming to Visur to see first hand and requesting Revathi to “save” them as well.

The project was not without challenges.   It is only natural for people in dire situations to think of their plight the most serious; but farmers soon understood that it is only by forgetting differences that they could successfully come out of this. Revathi introduced a token system to create order and also documented the requests, taking before/after videos in the farm fields. The village teams also promised the Inspire team to resolve internal disputes and to prevent illegal activities (like selling cleared sand off their fields) that may stall the project altogether.  The goal is to reclaim all of the 120+ villages that were affected by the floods as soon as possible, and in time for the next sowing season.

More than 1300 acres have been recovered since January.

Some farmers see Revathi as “God sent” while others see her as their personal savior. There are still almost 100 villages to go but the work is happening at a steady pace with machines clearing sands and leveling the fields for over 12 hours a day.

It has been a humbling experience to see how the small drop of contributions we send from here can literally turn farmers’ lives around.  We need more support as the scale of the project is very high. Let us also try stopping by Cuddalore village and telling the farmers how their sheer will and courage to sustain their lives in such dark times, is also changing lives far and wide, through the food they provide and and indeed all our lives through their indomitable courage and strength.

— Vidya Palaniswamy

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