Black waters

Today is our first day taking a break from interviews so that we can have a little time to reflect. To date we have talked to 21 farming families over six days in six relatively distinct areas. All but one area is adjacent to (or in, as is the case with one island community) the Yamuna River. A brief description of the Yamuna: this is the primary water body flowing north to south through Delhi. It is the second holiest river in India. There is a span of approximately 22 kilometers between two barrages that function as flood control for the local population. Having now been in a small rowboat in the river, I can attest to the dirtiness of the water. It is black–you literally lose sight of the boat’s oars immediately upon immersion into the water. And there are black blobs of organic waste floating along. The smell is describable, but I will refrain. In addition, it is the unseen, un-smelled additives that come from both industrial effluent and agricultural runoff that deadens this water.

And the farmers seem keenly aware that the river water is “dirty”. They farm along the Yamuna because it is the floodplain. And up until quite recently has not been threatened by development. But this is changing, and we will report more on this in a future blog. For now, I want to reflect on what farming looks like along the river.

Based on our brief time interviewing, we have found that very few people working the land actually own it. Some pay rent to a private landowner (called a contractor), while others occupy government land (and may or may not pay rent). Farm sizes range greatly from 0.3 acres to an outlier of 100 acres; however, in general, the typical total land rented is just under three acres. Tenure also ranges greatly from 1 year to (the same) outlier of 400 years; however, in general, tenure is just over 20 years. Vegetable crops are most common, but we found two areas where roses are the crop of choice, and one area where landscape nurseries were concentrated. Productivity is high enough to support most farmers and their families year round, even during the monsoon season, and few of the people we talked to look for other means of employment in between growing seasons. Here is a list of common crops: gourds (including bottle and bitter gourd), eggplant, okra, corn, pumpkins, cucumber, chillies, lobia (a pulse), spinach, cauliflower, mustard, wheat, rice, other leafy vegetables, tomatoes, melons, watermelon, carrots, and radishes.

We are learning a lot about farming practices, crop destination, gender roles, and benefits and challenges–and threats– to farming along the Yamuna. This week we plan to focus deeper on some of the questions we have that have come up. We also had an interesting visit to the Yamuna Biodiversity Park and met with a gentleman who has big plans to revive the Yamuna River…all this and more to come…

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