To grow or not to grow: Farmers lock horns over Sattha rice
Last week, farmers in Powayan area of Shahajahanpur district of West UP held a meeting on the ground of a rice mill to reach a consensus on a basic yet intrinsic question: Whether or not to cultivate Sattha variety of rice in their fields.
While one group says Sattha requires massive irrigation and depletes underground water, the other group says small farmers cannot sustain without its cultivation.
The burning question has divided the otherwise close knit community to the extent that police and district administration have had to intervene.
Last week’s meeting too was moderated by the circle officer (CO) and sub divisional magistrate (SDM) of the area.
However, the meeting was indecisive and the farmer groups failed to reach any consensus.
The issue took centre-stage started in 2016 when several Sikh farmers of the area decided against cultivating Sattha rice in their fields. They argued that the water requirement of the variety was high and its cultivation led to depletion of the underground water table. “No one in our village cultivated Sattha last year and we have decided not to do so in coming years,” said Kunwarjeet Kaur, head of Garwapur village. The then district magistrate Vijay Kiran Aanad also issued an order to stop the cultivation of Sattha. The order was followed by farmers with large land holdings.
However, unlike the farmers of Garwapur, those of the other villages, especially in Khutar, are opposed to this decision and are rooting to continue Saatha cultivation. “The rice variety helps us to overcome losses incurred in rabi season. Poor and marginal farmers cannot continue farming without Sattha,” said Hardayal Singh, a local farmer leader who opposed the order. “We have written a letter to the chief minister and agriculture minister to provide us an alternative. We are not against the environment but we cannot afford to lose income we get from cultivating Saatha,” he added.
This short grain variety of rice develops seeds within 60-70 days of sowing which makes it suitable for cultivation in summers i.e from April-June. But as it is cultivated in peak summers, the crop requires huge quantities of water which puts stress on the underground water table.
In Shahajahnpur, the rice variety is cultivated in Khutar, Powayan and Jalalbad blocks. The same blocks, according to a 2012-13 report, have the most tube wells 11049, 8728, 8894 respectively in the district.
Kulwant Singh, a village head from nearby Khutar block who also attended the meeting said, “The water table in my village that was at 30 feet has gone below 80 feet because these tube wells have pumped all the water out. Now half of the hand pumps in the village have no water and people are complaining about it.” Kulwant is worried about the situation in peak summer ahead.
The majority of farmland in Powayan is owned by Sikh farmers and any decision on the issue will be pivotal for the ecosystem and future of farmers of the area.
What is Sattha rice
It is a short grain paddy variety which is cultivated after rabi crop. The cropping starts in April. The crop matures within 60-70 days (hence the name Sattha). According to scientists, the water requirement is almost double compared to normal paddy crops. “The water requirement is more because the crop is cultivated in summers. The water consumption is high because of the climate and not because of physiology of the crop,” said Dr RK Sarkar, principal scientist of plant physiology department of the National Rice Research Institute, Cuttack.
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