Combating migration: How a climate initiative is reviving a Garhwali hamlet

Tipli: Ramveer Rauthela, a farmer in this small hamlet in Uttarakhand’s Garhwal region, points towards a house with a rusting lock on its front door and sighs: “Earlier, they would often visit home; later, they returned during the harvest; now they even skip festivals.”

Villages across this region have many such deserted houses overlooking vacant step farms as agriculture struggles to exist and families migrate to the plains searching for a better life.

However, what makes Tipli distinct are its efforts to bring those families back. Their hope: A micro weather station and a school that gives farmers lessons on climate chnage. This has managed to successfully revive step farming over the past few years and bring people back to their farms.

Rauthela, 58, who left for Delhi some years back, is among those who have re-migrated.

“People migrated because agriculture did not have much to offer and the changing weather and irregular rains make it more difficult. People had no clue about how to cope… and this is where this farming school and weather station have helped,” Rauthela told this visiting IANS correspondent.

His family is among 45 farming in the 55-family village. They undertake step farming on around 15 hectares of land and few new polyhouses. Tipli also has a pair of bullocks and plough that can be hired by the farmers at Rs 600 a day.

“Almost vacant three years back, our fields are now cultivated,” said Makhani Devi, head of the Tipli panchayat. “We grow tomatoes, capsicum, cucumber, beans and pulses and we recently harvested wheat.”

According to the villagers, once the weather station and school came up, more help followed, as it caught the attention of farmers.

Currently, scientists and experts from Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK), the Agriculture Science Centre of the College of Forestry at Ranichauri in Tehri Garhwal district, visit the village every alternate Friday and guide the locals with emerging trends as gauged by the weather station.

“It’s unique for a village to have its own micro weather station… It has increased their interest and perhaps this is the reason they are returning to their farms. It gives information about hail, rain, etc., so that farmers can plan their activities accordingly,” Sumit Chaudhary, Assistant Professor of Agronomy at the College of Forestry, told IANS, after conducting a detailed meeting with the farmers at the school.

Agricultural scientist Dr Tejpal Singh Bisht from the College believes there is an urgent need to replicate this model of a school and micro weather station in other villages as it has “re-defined” the idea of agriculture and horticulture in the hilly hamlets.

“Climate change and its effects altering the crop rotation is a reality… farmers are often clueless, don’t get a proper harvest and often quit. The weather station here has changed the idea of cultivation. Just a little help through consultation and they are already moving towards high-end cash crops,” Bisht said.

Explaining to the villagers about pests, how to deal with them and the crop they should sow next, Bisht asserted that the KVK is planning to convert Tipli into a seed producing village.

“We want to make an example out of the village so that it is replicated… government aims at doubling the income of farmers over next few years; how would that be possible if there are no farmers here,” Bisht said.

Apart from the micro weather station and school, which was build by Church’s Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA), a social organisation, on the request of the Indian government, Tipli village also has a 0.5 KW power station, which currently lights up about 50 hamlets — some inhabited by only one or two families — around Tipli, and a sand water filter.

“Several villages like Sunarkot, Utkhanda, Than, to name a few, are virtually vacant as most of the families have migrated… through this weather station and school, we did an experiment and it was successful; step farming has revived,” Isha Bannerjee, executive program associate-communications at CASA told IANS.

According to social activist Aranya Ranjan from the Uttarakhand Jan Jagriti Sansthan, while re-migration is not impossible for Garhwal, more efforts are needed to revive and bolster the farming sector.

“The village now needs a disease forecasting unit for stronger crops. CASA and KVK are mulling on that and we are sure that this would happen. But what’s more important is to replicate it at other villages as well,” Ranjan said.