How many types of rice do you know?

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Ida and Anjila, two environmental engineering students from DTU, are currently in India working on a groundwater/irrigation project as part of their bachelor’s thesis. This work builds on other student projects, such as Moritz Kopmann’s from last year about assessing the sustainability of the groundwater resource in Basanti.

How many types of rice do you know?

We know 25.

“Rice is our main crop,” says a farmer during a focus group meeting on agriculture and irrigation on Basanti island in West Bengal, India. After being here for over a month we have met more than sixty farmers and discussed irrigation, crops, and groundwater.

Groundwater tables are decreasing because of increased irrigation during the dry winter season, at the expense of access to clean drinking water for the local villagers. Already now, farmers report that water is more difficult to pump out both from hand pumps and groundwater pumps, something that has started happening every year for the last 7-8 years towards the end of the dry season.

During the last month we have stayed at and collaborated with JGVK. So far we have conducted interviews and focus group meetings with farmers to seek for a solution that can reduce groundwater usage to a sustainable level. Besides interviewing farmers about irrigation and crops, we measure water pressure in groundwater as well as surface water pumps and water levels in hand pumps together with JGVK field workers.

Our fieldwork has brought us far about on Basanti where the view of beautiful green rice fields is everywhere. What we have understood so far from eating Bengali food, getting confused by the many names for rice in Bengali, and talking with Bengali people, is that rice is the main food for them. Taking a closer look at the rice fields it’s clear to see why water can easily get scarce. Every week pumps are distributing water on paddy fields making sure they are ponding with water during the very warm and dry months of the Bengali winter. Water either coming from dirty ponds or from deep down from under ground pumping nice, clean and cold water directly on to the rice fields.

Rice is not only grown during the dry season; it is by far the main crop grown during monsoon where it is mostly produced in so large quantity that most farmers are able to sell their excess yield. Besides requiring huge amounts of irrigation the dry season rice is also an expensive crop to grow making the profit very low. Looking at this from the outside it is hard not to wonder why this crop is grown in so high quantity at such a high cost. Several interviews and focus group meetings have made it clear that part of the answer is easy; rice should only be grown in limited amounts during dry season. While the answer is easy the solution is not.

The purpose of our project is to acquire data about crop types, profit and water requirement in order to evaluate the water and cost efficiency of current crops and growing patterns of the local farmers. Our work will conclude in one or two workshops with local farmers and JGVK field workers and furthermore a class for grade 9 and 10 school children. During these workshops we will discuss the possibilities of changing cropping patterns in order to use less water and earn more money.

Our work continues in Denmark where we will use the collected quantitative data as inputs for a linear programming model in order to perform hydroeconomic optimization based on the amount of water that the farmers can sustainably extract. JGVK plans to continue with a project on irrigation within the next year and hopefully our work can be a stepping stone to this as well as raise awareness of the issue amongst the local farmers in order to prevent the threatening water crisis.

 

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