Berhampur: At a time when the farmers in the plain areas of Odisha struggle with water conservation and face drought or flood, the tribals of Gajapati district have managed to turn rugged landscape into cultivable land irrigated through water harvesting with traditional technology.
In Gumma block of the district, the tribals cultivate paddy on farmland carved out of hilly and mountainous terrain. These fields were created by their ancestors hundreds of years back and are one of the most inspiring scenes to look at.
The excess water from four streams flowing down the mountains is tapped in the farmland created like steps on the mountain slopes. These streams flow into Gajapati Sagar and then to Mahendratanaya river and finally into the sea.
Such farming, known as ‘Step Farming’, is used for cultivation on sloping land such as on hills and mountainous terrains and is a common sight in Gumma.
According to Santosh Kumar Patra who works as a Gram Rojgar Sevak (GRS) in the block, the terrace is a low, flat ridge of earth built across the slope, with a channel for runoff water just above the ridge. Usually terraces are built on a slight grade so that the water caught in the channel moves slowly toward the terrace outlet.
The rice terraces are built by blanketing walls with stones and earth which are designed to draw water from a natural spring above the terrace clusters. Stream water is channeled down to the terraces for irrigation throughout the year, he added.
“This system has got a lot of benefits. Regular maintenance of the land surface through cultivation prevents landslide and helps conservation of ecosystem. It is also effective for growing crops requiring more water such as rice. Today rice terraces have also become a focus of green tourism in many parts of the world. We can also tap these potentialities in Gajapati district,” Patra said.
Adya Sahi under Namangada panchayat in the block is one such village where the tribals have been carrying out step farming for the last six generations. All the 23 families of the village mainly depend on terrace cultivation watered by Kanibajada stream originating from Ridiul mountain.
“Rice terraces of about 200 acre land in and around the area watered by this stream give us rice, ‘kangu’, ‘jahna’, ‘mandia’, ‘kandula’ and others throughout the year,” said the villagers.
“Terrace cultivation is our lifeline. We never experienced drought. Though the water flow slightly recedes in April, May and June, it is manageable,” said Basana Raita of Adya Sahi.