I remember a farm pond that I once visited in Maharashtra. It shone like a square sapphire in that dry land, securely held by tall earth embankments. On the other side of one of those embankments was a parched and dying field. When I asked the farmer why it wasn't irrigated, he asked me to give him a pump.
"I can't do that", I said and pointed out that the total lift was only about 4 metres. Surely he could manage something like a human chain for watering, or get his bullocks to raise water? But no, he adamantly said, "Give me a pump".
I wish I could introduce that farmer to Soban Singh.
Soban Singh is a farmer in Chopdiyali, a small village nestled in the Garhwal Himalayas. He exudes a quietly prosperous air and pride in all the vegetables he grows. He has an orchard of peaches and apricots. To this, he has now added walnuts and malta.
The fields around his home are all irrigated and bear tomatoes and onions, cauliflower and peas to be sold in the nearby market town of Chamba. A little lower down are a couple of fields where, in long rows mulched with plastic, he grows capsicum and lettuce for the Delhi market. Each field is bordered by a pretty, and pretty lucrative, edge of corriander.
All this he's done without recourse to a canal, a tube well, or even a gushing spring. The 'springs' that he taps would not have even been noticed by ninety nine of a hundred farmers.
Soban is the hundredth farmer.
He has identified spots on his farm where the seepage is visible, excavated a shallow basin, and painstakingly led the water into his fields. It is only recently that Soban has been able to construct two irrigation tanks with funding from HIMCON, an organisation that works towards the industrial development of Himachal Pradesh, and the government.
As Dr. Singh of HIMCON explained to me, "When you see a farmer doing so much on the barest of resources, it is a pleasure to be able to arrange for the little help he needs to make things possible". Of course, Soban did not stay idle till he could build those tanks. He would use a muti-patched length of pipe to carry water to the fields that were within his reach. The others he watered by hand.
Even today, Soban lugs pots of water to his orchard to nourish his saplings. His efforts are quite literally bearing fruit but the hard work doesn't stop. Soban's story, his farm, the massive tanks built to store water from the pitiful seepage and the thrifty use of the overflow from that seepage are an inspiration to other farmers in similar situations.
Now if only I could go back in time to that farmer in Maharashtra.
View photos of Soban Singh's farm in Chopdiyali, Uttarakhand.