Soil and water conservation

Agroforestry

GREEN initiates farmers to take up agroforestry in their landholdings by growing trees in bunds and trenches around their farms. Saplings are first produced in a nursery before being transplanted to the main field. Incorporating agroforestry in farms is an ages old tradition in India that has recently faded out of farming practices. GREEN aims to revive this practice in order that farmers may benefit from its many advantages. Read more on how we revive other farming practices.

Through our efforts, nearly 10,000 saplings were raised by women farmers in the villages of Aralagadakalu and Veeraiahanadoddi. Read more on women as custodians of biodiversity. Around 2500 trees were also planted in the areas as part of the Organic Village Program of the Govt. of Karnataka.

Advantages of agroforestry

Agroforestry is a collective name for land use systems and practices in which woody perennials are deliberately integrated with crops and/or animals on the same land management units as agricultural crops and/or animals, in some form of spatial arrangement or temporal sequence. In agroforestry systems there are both ecological and economical interactions between the different components.

It enhances soil fertility and water use efficiency within farming systems. Trees increase biomass and their fallen leaves and twigs, when transformed into humus, can be reused in the main field in order to increase soil fertility. Certain trees also enrich the nutrient cycle by aiding processes such as nitrogen fixation. The improve water efficiency by curbing run-off, drainage and soil evaporation. The trees around farms tend to act as windbreakers, protecting agricultural crops on the mainland. Deep tree roots also help prevent soil erosion.

Agroforestry systems can also be used as carbon sinks within an environment, and to an extent, help counter the effects of continued deforestation on the carbon cycle.

It can reduce the pressure on natural forests: many rural farmers are still dependant on natural forests as resource pools for their livelihood; for example, in many areas of India, forests are still the main source of firewood. By growing selected, domesticated trees in their own fields, farmers can reduce the pressure on rapidly depleting natural forests.

It also aids biological pest control: trees such as the neem tree have inherent, proven medicinal properties that allow farmers to pursue organic pest control mechanisms. Contribute to livelihood improvement. The trees planted can often fetch alternate sources of income. Excess fruits can be sold in the market; wood from trees can be used to make handicrafts and carvings. Trees can also be grown as fodder for livestock or used to make manure.


Farm ponds

GREEN facilitates farmers to dig farm ponds in the lowest lying area of their land holdings, guiding them on where to locate their ponds, how to excavate them, how to create a network of drainage channels that lead to the pond, among many others.

Made for the purpose of catching and storing rain water, farm ponds have drainage channels which direct run-off to the pond. Outlets built into the pond help discharge excess water into surrounding areas. Water in the ponds is most often used for irrigation purposes within a farm.

One of the biggest advantages of farm ponds is that they help reduce farmers’ dependence on ground water or rain. As a water source during dry spells, they help increase farmers’ resilience to climate change. They also replenish ground water supplies, improve moisture levels in the soil and recharge borehole water supplies.


Silt application

Silt is fine granular material derived from rock or soil. Suspended as particulate matter in running water, it settles at the bottom of standing water bodies as fine sediment. In traditional Indian agricultural methods, silt gathered in village tanks and lakes was reapplied to fields in order to improve soil fertility. There are a reported 36,000 tanks in 26,000 villages of Karnataka state, built with centuries old expertise, that act as water storage systems for communities. They also trap the silt in run-off, and this silt, rich in plant nutrients, is an economically viable means of increasing soil fertility.

However, the shift away from traditional practices towards chemical fertilizers has meant that many farmers now no longer use silt as a type of organic manure. The resulting increase in siltation in tanks and lakes has reduced their water holding capacities. GREEN has aimed to revive the traditional practice of silt application by guiding farmers through the process. This counters the effects of siltation while improving soil fertility. Read more on how we revive other indigenous agricultural practices. Silt collected from tanks and lakes is then spread evenly on the field before sowing.

Farmers are advised to use between 20 -25 tractor loads of silt per acre of land. To prepare the land for silt application, they must first plough it and make sure to build bunds and trenches along its margin to prevent run-off. The adhesive properties of silt allow it to mix with soil in the main fields during the first monsoon rains. As silt composition varies from area to area, farmers are advised to have their soil tested before applying the necessary lab recommendations. Silt can be applied to soil once in 3 years in order to improve soil conditions.

Advantages of silt application include increased soil fertility and, therefore, crop yields, increased moisture content of soil, improvement in water table due to increased filtration, among many others. Upon being initiated by GREEN to take up silt application, many farmers reported a significant increase in crop yields. In particular, yields were doubled in farmers who were growing ragi in their fields. These encouraging results have persuaded many more community members to take up silt application in their own farms. Click here to view results of silt application on ragi yields.


Trench and bund formation

A bund is like an embankment, often built around the periphery of farmland to prevent water run-off. Bunds and trenches help reduce soil erosion and retain water during scanty rainfall. They also improve ground water levels by increasing filtration.

GREEN guides farmers to build bunds and trenches around their farms as part of its soil and water conservation efforts. Bunds are trenches are built immediately after the first rain as it is easy to dig the soil at that period. Farmers are advised grow grass on their bunds in order to reduce the intensity of rain falling directly on them.

Soil and agricultural waste collected in trenches is used to enrich the soil in the area by mixing it back into the land. Rainwater collected in trenches is directed to kitchen gardens or used to grow trees in the trenches themselves. Many farmers, in fact, grow fruit trees in the bunds on their farms. Read more on our agroforestry efforts. Fruit trees not only supplement the family’s nutrition, but also generate additional income for the households when the fruit is sold.

Sujatha, who grows teak trees in the bunds on her farm, is very happy at the prospect of fetching an extra income. “We do not mind the slight loss in land owing to the bunds being built. After a few years, the trees we have planted in them will fetch me a good income.” Sujatha also grows plant varieties that provide fodder for her cattle.


Vermicompost

As part of its soil conservation efforts, GREEN trains farmers to make and use vermicompost effectively within their own farms through rigorous training sessions that place great emphasis on quality.

This is 100% organic fertilizer is made by feeding farm waste material to certain species of worms. As the worms eat this biomass and pass it through their bodies, it is converted to vermicompost. Rich in all essential plant nutrients, vermicompost is both cost effective for the farmer and ideally suited for soil enrichment. It greatly reduces a farmer’s dependency on chemical fertilizers, enhances soil fertility while also increasing the quantity and quality of crops.

In many cases, this organic fertilizer also supplements family income, as many farmers sell the excess vermicompost in their farms at a good price.

“Our family needed money. My father had a lot of difficulties paying back loans, which he had incurred from buying seeds for sowing. And even though we all have a lot of work at home and on the fields, I wanted to continue my studies. It was vermicompost that made the difference,” says Suvasini, at a Farmer’s Meet in Nidanegilu. Her family had learnt of the organic fertilizer through GREEN and its non-profit partner in the region Aranya Vikas.

“A quintal of vermicompost can be sold for Rs. 500 – Rs. 600. So I started concentrating on the production of the compost and sold it just when I had to pay the examination fees,” says the 17-year-old. Read more of our stories.