Traditions & Practices > Drip Irrigation Method

Drip Irrigation Method

Apatani Paddy-Fish Cultivation

In Meghalaya, an ingenious system of tapping of stream and springwater by using bamboo pipes to irrigate plantations is widely prevalent. It is so perfected that about 18-20 litres of water entering the bamboo pipe system per minute gets transported over several hundred metres and finally gets reduced to 20-80 drops per minute at the site of the plant. The tribal farmers of Khasi and Jaintia hills use the 200-year-old system.

The bamboo drip irrigation system is normally used to irrigate the betel leaf or black pepper crops planted in arecanut orchards or in mixed orchards. Bamboo pipes are used to divert perennial springs on the hilltops to the lower reaches by gravity. The channel sections, made of bamboo, divert and convey water to the plot site where it is distributed without leakage into branches, again made and laid out with different forms of bamboo pipes. Manipulating the intake pipe positions also controls the flow of water into the lateral pipes. Reduced channel sections and diversion units are used at the last stage of water application. The last channel section enables the water to be dropped near the roots of the plant.

Bamboos of varying diameters are used for laying the channels. About a third of the outer casing in length and internodes of bamboo pieces have to be removed while fabricating the system. Later, the bamboo channel is smoothened by using a dao, a type of local axe which is a round chisel fitted with a long handle. Other components are small pipes and channels of varying sizes used for diversion and distribution of water from the main channel. About four to five stages of distribution are involved from the point of the water diversion to the application point.

Apatani Paddy-Fish Cultivation

The rice field (Aji) is utilized for fish culture in the following ways. Fish is reared from the month of April to September when the paddy crops grow in the field. The fish culture is also taken up from the month of November to February after harvesting of paddy crops is completed and before transplantation for the next season begins. The culture of fish in paddy fields, which remain flooded even after the paddy is harvested, often serves as an occupation for unemployed youths.

The system is found in the 'war' areas of Meghalaya but is more prevalent in the 'war' Jaintia hills than in the 'war' Khasi hills. This system is also widely prevalent in the Muktapur region bordering Bangladesh. The region has very steep slopes and a rocky terrain. Diverting water through ground channels is not possible. The land used for cultivation is owned by the clan, and is allocated for cultivation by the clan elders on payment of a one-time rent.

The clan elders have the prerogative to decide who should get what and how much land. Once the rent has been paid and the land taken on lease for cultivation, the lease period operates as long as the plants last. In case of betel leaf cultivation, the lease can last for a very long time since the plants are not lopped off after one harvest. But once the plants die, for whatever reason, the land reverts back to the clan, and can only be leased out again after paying new rent.

The water for betel leaf plants is diverted from streams by temporary diversions into very intricate bamboo canal systems. Betel leaf is planted in March before the monsoon. It is only during winter that irrigation water is required, and the bamboo pipe system is used. Hence, these bamboo systems are made ready before the onset of the winter, and during the monsoon no water is diverted into them.

Apatani Paddy-Fish Cultivation

Maintenance of the pipes and supports is done by the farmers themselves. A cooperative has been formed, and each farmer provides his skill and labour to maintain the system. Repair work is undertaken as and when required. Distribution of water is carried out by diverting water from one field to another at fixed timings.

To divert the water, a short bamboo with a hole at the bottom is placed across the main lines. This blocks the main water pipe and diverts the water.

Attempts have been made to introduce modern pipe systems but farmers prefer to use their indigenous form of irrigation. The new systems have met with suspicion. Local farmers do not trust the new materials nor the people who supply them.


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