How the youth of Mumbai fought against farmer suicides and revived 17 riversPriyanka Gupta
Jal Jagruti Abhiyaan (JJA) was established in 2013 under the aegis of The Art of Living Foundation. Since then, volunteers and farmers have been working together to solve the issue of water crisis in the state with a special focus on Latur and Marathwada. Till date, JJA has revived 17 rivers in three states in a matter of just three years.
In early 2016, the state of Maharashtra had officially declared a drought, when more than 28,000 villages in the state had become dry. More than 2,000 farmers had committed suicide in 2015, the highest number of cases being in Maharashtra alone. This number further rose when Latur experienced the worst drought till date. Indeed, the situation was so grim that the state forbade groups of people from gathering around water resources. This unprecedented step was necessary as riots started breaking out when the frequency of water tankers was reduced to just once a week.
Marathwada and Latur were always rich in pulses. But over the years, farmers changed their farming patterns to produce more cash crops like sugarcane. Sugarcane generally needs 2,200 mm of rainfall for cultivation. However, Maharashtra receives only 600-700 mm of rainfall. Hence, in order to fulfil this need for irrigation, farmers started exploiting available water sources including underground water and bore wells. Soon, these sources also dried up, and the farmers were left completely to the mercy of nature. This is the reason why farmers started committing suicide and also why India faces a shortage of pulses.
What was the solution?
In the wake of this issue, the youth of Mumbai decided to address it. Under the JJA umbrella, they visited Latur to understand the problem. They sought out to work with farmers aiming to rejuvenate the dried-up water sources. Although the project didn’t receive instant success, continued efforts made a difference. Today, the project has become huge in scale and has even become a model for other villages to revive their water bodies.
How was this achieved?
A four-fold step—Restore. Recycle. Reuse. Reduce—was followed to achieve this. The volunteers proposed to revert to the old farming pattern—a simple, yet effective measure that enabled the farmer to cultivate crops that consumed less water. Villagers were then trained in water conservation skills. The program aimed at the restoration of water bodies, planting of trees, making a gradual shift to organic farming and the practice of water shedding.
Last month, the founder of JJA, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, also visited the affected districts and left a powerful message for the youth. “Instead of going on holidays, spend time with farmers. No farmer should commit suicide. India has faced much worse situations, but never have so many farmers taken such a drastic step. Either they have lost faith in God or they are not getting love from the society. Where there is love and belongingness, all problems get resolved,” he said.
In our everyday city lives, we forget the struggles of a farmer. In this light, the message left by the founder was well-received by many. Many volunteers have pledged to be of service to farmers and initiate tree plantation drives around the state.
This is a perfect example of the Indian philosophy of Sangachadwam—an idea that talks about a one world family. The belongings and empathy of these volunteers are what drove them to take action. Every individual can make a difference. Start today by planting one tree. Let us aim to make the tally one person to one tree.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)