We’re in Hessarghatta, an hour or so south of Bangalore in a rural area of the Deccan Plateau. It is a very parched landscape. The Arkavathi River, which once ran through it, is now completely vanished year round. And because the land prices here have risen so dramatically in value (due to its proximity to the thriving city), many farmers who benefited from a government law enabling them to own their own land, simply sold off portions at vast sums. These new millionaires are undisturbed by the cost of water and waste it liberally, knowing that they can buy in more from neighbouring states or dig boreholes for more.
The boreholes must descend hundreds of feet, though. There is hard granite for 400ft before the fossil water begins. And this ancient aquifer will not be replaced by monsoons or anything else. Pumping, especially from such depths, requires a lot of energy and with power outages of 13 hours a day here, farmers are getting pretty vocal about their shrivelling crops.
There are a handful of water-concerned people, including Ambika, a former teacher from Chennai who moved to the district to run an organic farm that is next to an eco hotel. She uses rainwater harvested from the hotel’s roof and has ingenious ways of using every last drop, including drip irrigation and canal systems.
Having no knowledge of farming when she arrived 6 months ago, Ambika approached scientists at the locally based Indian Institute of Horticural Research, “but they were of the Green Revolution generation and didn’t approve of farming without pesticides or chemical fertilizers”. Nevertheless, she stuck to her ideals and joined a community of organic growers in Bangalore.
It’s great to see her vegetable plots and remarkable yields, but as with organic farming elsewhere, it is niche, prohibitively expensive and even convincing her farmhands of the method has been a continual struggle.