Excerpt from an interview with a Delhi journalist from June 2014:
Journalist: Many of these farmers live in the perpetual fear of being displaced because of floods and the ongoing development projects such as extension of a new elevated road and the construction of new metro line cutting right through their agricultural fields. How do you think these farmers are coping with development pressures?
Response: I speak only from my interview experience and personal observation.
First, a note about annual flooding versus development pressures: farmers are accustomed to the annual floods and plan accordingly. They save and have enough money to sustain themselves and their families through the flood season without needing to earn extra income (such as working in construction). Development, on the other hand, is a constant and largely unknown threat. There are cases where a farm family was just a few days or a week from harvesting a crop and construction came without notice. I think the most challenging aspect of farming in a development zone is not knowing the dates of construction or the extent of what will be developed. One of my research questions was: what does your family plan to do if your land is developed and you can no longer farm this land? I heard a range of responses from detailed plans to move someplace else to vague answers of looking for more land, desire to return to their home village, or just not being sure of what they will do. The threat of development has been hanging over these farmers for years. My impression is that they have limited resources so they put all their time and energy into their current land, which they hope will continue to be available—rather than using precious energy to plan for an uncertain future that may or many not come.
My approach to the whole situation is that this is a case where the city wants to plan and develop in a sustainable way, but what happens when the need for low-carbon emitting transportation infrastructure needs that same land as local agriculture? Although the farmers along the Yamuna floodplain (and I refer to the entire length of the Delhi floodplain) produce only a percentage of the city’s produce needs, they do produce a significant volume of produce for local markets, which contributes to food security (an important component of a sustainable city). Refer to our published paper for more details.
I guess my short answer is that farmers cope by planning for what they can (floods and seasonal patterns) and dealing with unknowns as they come. Since many families have been on the same land for years and have children in school, they DO plan to stay on their land as long as they possibly can.