BENGALURU: A recent study has found that farmers in villages near Bengaluru were generally unconcerned about falling groundwater levels and switched to water-intensive crops. In spite of the depleting water table, drilling of borewells continued unabated, it said. The study was conducted by Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), a socioenvironmental think-tank, between 2012 and 2016. It used cross-sectional data from a stratified sample of 333 farmers from 15 villages spread across the erstwhile Arkavathy river basin. Factors determining the choice of crops by farmers under conditions of water scarcity and urbanisation were studied.
The researchers found that farmers, in the northern part of the river basin, switched to water-intensive crops such like eucalyptus. In areas closer to the city, they preferred growing vegetables high in demand among urbanites. The study found borewell ownership was skewed in favour of wealthy farmers who could afford to drill one and try their luck with more if it failed to yield water. Only 15% of the 333 farmers owned borewells; they were educated, upper-caste with large landholdings. Marginal farmers who could not afford borewells were forced to supplement agricultural incomes with non-farming ones or quit the profession altogether.
The study, Adapting or chasing water? Crop choice and farmers’ responses to water stress in peri-urban Bangalore, India, was led by Bejoy Thomas, a fellow at ATREE. Vikram Patil, Sharachchandra Lele, Meghana Eswar and Veena Srinivasan are the other authors. Bejoy said, “Resource sustainability may not be a prime concern for farmers in the short run, especially when opportunities exist outside of agriculture to earn more.” In order to avert longterm consequences of this practice, there was a need to regulate groundwater exploitation, the study said.