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Farmers in Jaisalmer use
traditional ‘khadin’
agriculture to maximise their
water usage for irrigation
The Khadin agricultural system has been around for centuries, and is still a technique.

For a civilization that has witnessed sever water – shortage with harsh summer, the Khadin agricultural system relies on a beri or a water tank built to store runoff water that seeps into the ground after it collects in this sandy bed from the surrounding catchment area. The stored water is used by the neighbouring village for their daily needs and by livestock.

One man, Mr. Jethu Singh in keeping this traditional form of water conservation alive
Water is a much discussed topic in Jaisalmer and regularly crops up in daily discourse—the numerous lakes that once dotted this dreary landscape and whose dry beds now yearn for water; the legends of many others that have never dried and cradled civilization even during severe drought conditions; the Indira Gandhi canal that brings waters from the high Himalayas to the thirsty desert; how floods pose a regular threat to the region during monsoons.

The system has been used in this region for more than 500 years – its design is attributed to Paliwal Brahmins who lived around Jaisalmer. In this system the runoff water from a catchment area (which is usually a rocky upland close to a flat area) is collected in the Khadin bed by building a bund. Excess water is allowed to drain off via spillways and sluices, traditionally. Water is allowed to be absorbed by the soil till it is ready to be sowed and no irrigation is required post sowing.

The fields, where Singh grows gram and mustard, also have a lush covering of perennial trees like acacia.

Apart from improving yields and providing food and financial security to desert dwellers, khadin has several positive impacts on the environment itself. It prevents soil erosion and washing away of essential minerals and organic manure from the fields. The plant waste lying in the field is converted into manure by the trapped water. Ground water is replenished and the system is not exacting on the land (a lot of farmers grow crops organically). Dense natural vegetation that flourishes around khadins provides fodder for animals and much needed shade during scorching summer months. The government is also promoting research in searching new sites for prospective khadins, to improve upon utilizing the current ones and identifying crops that are suited to this environment.

Jethu Singh is setting up a village tourism venture in the village of Manpiya, around 12 kms from Jaisalmer, where he promises an authentic experience complete with home cooked meals and music from the desert. The accommodation is available in mud huts with thatched roofs and the company of simple villagers is refreshing. The plan is to combine this sustainable form of tourism with spreading knowledge about khadin, water harvesting and the role water plays in daily lives of sturdy denizens of the desert.
As Jethu Singh firmly believes, “Real freedom is in self-reliance and khadin is our best chance to achieve this.”
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