Two years after Aila, farmers in Sunderbans adopt new crops


* Increased salinity level in the soil reason behind transition

Life in the Sunderbans has undergone a sea change after Cyclone Aila swept through the area with some locals altering their farming methods and others rearing non-traditional livestock to cope with the difficult situation.

The reason for them to change the farming method was the increase in salinity level in the soil after the cyclone brought in sea water in May 2009. To deal with the problem, saline-tolerant paddy strains have been introduced by aid agencies.

"Not only agriculture, people have been encouraged to adipt fish farming and rearing of ducks to improve their economic condition," said Subhas Chandra Acharya, project coordinator of Sundarbans Affairs Department.

He claimed these simple adjustments in their ways of living were slowly arming the dwellers against nature's furies, which often strike the world-famous mangrove forest.

Suchitra Jana of Pathar Pratima was one of those who immensely benefited from cultivating a saline-tolerant paddy variety, Dudheswar, in her small field in the Pathar Pratima block of Sundarbans. The traditional variety needs less labour and less chemical fertiliser, the only de-merit being the low yield.

Government agencies and NGOs have also trained people to prepare compost pits and get vermicompost as well as raise livestock in a difficult situation. Rearing goats and sheep is another way to earn a good living by small farmers and landless people.

Acharya, however, noted that it could have been more successful but for the "reluctance" of government officials and other employees to regularly interact with the villagers of Sunderbans.

Authorities have also initiated measures to protect locals against water-borne diseases. The platforms of tubewells that supply drinking water to the residents have been raised by eight feet so that in times of flooding and sea surges they would not get inundated, said an official of Public Health Engineering Department.

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