Oases of fertility
MORE THAN 6,000 ha of usar (saline) infertile land in 16 districts of Uttar Pradesh have been regenerated in the last decade by the Sarvodaya Ashram, a non-governmental organisation, through community participation.
Sarvodaya workers played only an advisory role and all the work was left to be done by the farmers as "this instills -- a feeling of participation among the farmers" according to Mahesh Prasad of the ashram.
Kallupurwa village in Barabanki district, where regeneration of 17 ha of land began last year, is only one example of the success of these efforts. Before regeneration, Ram Chander got poor yields of the mustard he used to raise. Ram Khelawan, Pannalal and Sita Ram used to raise coarse crops. This kharif season, Ram Chander sowed paddy and beans, while the others got two rice crops and one wheat crop.
The implementation of the programme has, however, been hindered by the apathy of government officials, who do not verify land titles unless pressurised to do so, according to Prasad. Besides, gypsum for fertiliser is also not received in time. Added to this are the vested interests of some villagers, who use the land for other purposes such as grazing.
Nevertheless, the programme has evoked much interest and the Bhoomi Sudhar Nigam (Land Development Crop) of Uttar Pradesh has asked the ashram to help educate the Nigam's employees and undertake work on its behalf.