Uttar Pradesh Farmers Struggle as Dry Canals Halt Critical Rice Transplantation

Small and medium water sources have dried up due to temperatures of 35-40 degrees Celsius and continuous heat waves, creating significant challenges for farmers attempting to cultivate Kharif crops. The situation is exacerbated by the absence of any signs of impending rain.
Dry fields in Uttar Pradesh
Dry fields in Uttar PradeshPhoto- Rajan Chaudhary, The Mooknayak

Lucknow— In UP, Awadhesh Kumar Verma, who farms on 3 bighas of land along the Ami River, is worried about the uncertainty of rain. His rice nursery is ready, but there is no proper irrigation system for transplanting rice in the fields.

Although he has installed a borewell, transporting the engine from almost a kilometer away is a challenging task. He hopes that if water flows into the Ami River, he can start transplanting rice. However, the Ami River has been dry for several months.

Ami river dried up, water left only in the foothills.
Ami river dried up, water left only in the foothills.Photo- Rajan Chaudhary, The Mooknayak

Like Awadhesh, millions of farmers in UP have rice nurseries ready for transplantation in the fields. The problem is that there is neither rain nor water in the canals, tributaries, and ponds.

In simple terms, almost all natural irrigation sources in UP are dry. Farmers are now solely dependent on rain.

Notably, Rice transplantation is a critical stage in rice cultivation, where young rice plants are moved from nurseries to the main fields. Without adequate water, this process cannot be completed, severely impacting the farmers' ability to grow their crops and threatening their livelihoods.

The 55-year-old farmer Verma told The Mooknayak, "The soil in the fields is cracked and dry. Even if we use an engine to fill water, the moisture in the field won't last long. In such intense heat and sunlight, no water is left in any pond or reservoir; everything has dried up."

"Even if we manage to transplant the rice, we'll need to irrigate the fields every 2 to 3 days. Where will we get the water from? If the fields aren't watered on time after transplantation, the rice plants will dry up, and the entire crop will be ruined. So, for now, we can only wait for rain or water from the canals"
Awadhesh Kumar

In eastern UP, farmers use tubewells, pumping sets, canals, ponds, and electric motors for irrigation. However, most farmers lack access to pumping sets or electric motors due to their high cost, which many cannot afford. As a result, they depend on their neighbors' irrigation resources or natural water sources.

Gyanmati Devi, who has been managing the farm since her husband's death, has a field adjacent to a canal built under the Saryu Canal Project. In previous years, her entire crop has been submerged during floods because of this proximity. But this time, the canal is dry, leaving her worried about how she will transplant the rice this season.

"The canal is right next to my field. If there had been water in the canal, I would have already transplanted the rice. But this time, for some reason, there's no water in the canal. I will have to wait until it rains or the canal gets water to start the transplantation," she said.

Discussing the challenges of farming, she added, "As soon as the rain starts, everyone gets busy transplanting and irrigating their fields. At that time, it's hard to find laborers because everyone is working on their own farms. This causes delays in transplantation, leading to further issues with yield and harvesting."

Farmers in the districts of Basti, Siddharthnagar, and Sant Kabir Nagar in eastern Uttar Pradesh reported similar problems. They are now waiting for both canal water and rain.

A canal under the Saryu Canal Project in eastern Uttar Pradesh that has been dry for months.
A canal under the Saryu Canal Project in eastern Uttar Pradesh that has been dry for months.Photo- Rajan Chaudhary, The Mooknayak

Saryu Canal Project: Initiated for Irrigation

The Saryu Canal Project is a significant irrigation initiative in Uttar Pradesh. Originally conceived in 1978, it was launched to enhance irrigation facilities and water supply for agriculture in the state. The project's goal is to integrate five rivers—Ghaghra, Saryu, Rapti, Banganga, and Rohini—into a canal network to provide a reliable and continuous water supply for irrigation purposes. However, the canals under this project are currently almost dry.

The Saryu Canal Project irrigates approximately 1.4 million hectares (about 3.5 million acres) of land. Yet, the canals within the project have dried up.

The project was started to improve agricultural productivity by providing a consistent water supply for irrigation, especially in water-scarce areas. It aimed to combat drought by ensuring water availability, thus mitigating the adverse effects of drought and protecting farmers' livelihoods.

Additionally, the project aimed to manage and control floods by regulating river flows and utilizing surplus water for irrigation.

The beneficiary districts of this project primarily include Bahraich, Shravasti, Balrampur, Gonda, Siddharthnagar, Basti, Sant Kabir Nagar, Gorakhpur, and Maharajganj.

These districts are now facing a water shortage for irrigation due to the dry canals, directly affecting the farmers.

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