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India: Beating the Weather with Sustainable Crops

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BUNDELKHAND, India - Narrow, cobblestoned lanes separate the rows of mud houses with cool interiors and mud-smoothened patios, some with goats tethered to the wooden posts. This is Tajpura village, deep in this water-stressed, drought-prone region of northern India.

An area of stark beauty marked by deep ravines in central India, Bundelkhand spans the states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The ruins of stone fortresses dotting the landscape betray a history of constant warfare just as the remnants of water courses and irrigation systems speak of peaceable and prosperous times gone by.

Bundelkhand suffers from manmade problems, starting with the government's misplaced land and water policies that have worsened an already stressed climatic situation caused by prolonged droughts and erratic rainfall.

Air dropping of 'Prosopis juliflora' seeds as a soil-conservation measure in the 1960s  resulted in the plant becoming an invasive species that killed indigenous shrubs and trees, making the soft soils of the ravines leach water rapidly and turned vast areas into wastelands.

Thoughtless promotion by the government of water-intensive crops like mentha (mint) encouraged richer farmers to dig deep tube wells while neglecting groundwater recharge, resulting in a disastrous lowering of the water table.

Marginalised farmers, unable to afford expensive infrastructure and inputs, suffer as groundwater depletion adds to problems caused by the ancient rainwater storage and distribution systems going defunct.

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