December 2014 saw the 10th anniversary of the tsunami that hit several countries in South East Asia. Ten years since coastlines, livelihoods and families were devastated.
In the immediate days after the waters receded, amidst the chaos that reigned in coastal areas, rehabilitation of homes, livelihood of fisherfolk and distribution of food were immediate priorities. Though most of the loss was incurred by the fishing community, agricultural land too was deeply affected.
Subhashini Sridhar, one of Sempulam’s core team members, took it on herself and her team in Sirkazhi to help with the rehabilitation of land in Sirkazhi and Kollidam villages, both in Nagapattinam, one of the coastal districts that was most severely hit.
“Two days after the tsunami, we visited the these two villages and found the groundnut crop and the paddy crop were immersed in a thick layer of sand. Because immediate focus was on restoring regular lives, we started on soil rehabilitation a month later. Most of the time and energy in the first few days was spent in ensuring food and shelter for those displaced,” says Subhashini, who has been honored with awards for her work during this time.
It was towards January 25, when there was some semblance of near-normalcy that agriculture-focused work began in these areas. Subhashini and her team began collecting soil samples to send them to Annamalai and Karaikal Universities in order to get an analysis of salinity and other damage. By February, along with the results on the soil, several brainstorming sessions were conducted with active involvement of farmers from the area to decide on an optimum way to proceed on reclaiming and rehabilitating their land.
March saw the concretisation of a plan that involved treatment of soil, use of paddy varieties that were drought and salinity resistant and also capacity building in collaboration with other NGOs that were working in the area. The crop that year, of course, was totally lost, and with it the income. But within a year and a half, things were almost back to normal.
Among those who work with land and the sea is the strong belief that nature takes care of its own. That year, in October, excessive rains caused flooding of agricultural land, which almost completely reversed the damage that the sea had inflicted on it. This, as a result, returned the land to its previously arable condition. It helped, too, that the practices these villages undertook were organic.
One of the more important things Subhashini and her team worked on was experimenting with cultivation of traditional paddy varities. “Many traditional varieties are drought-resistant and can withstand the salinity found in soil in coastal areas. Helping farmers plant these saw a revival, however small, of these varieties as well as an income,” says Subhashini. This was done as more than an immediate solution as there was a need to build preparedness in the farmers for any further mishaps that might occur in coastal areas.
But the farmers’ challenges don’t end there. Subhashini says in coastal areas, with every passing year, salinity in the soil increases. This in turn goads farmers to use more fertilisers, which becomes an expensive process. “In the 10 years since the tsunami, the yield has remained the same while the cost of production, seeds and labour has increased threefold. Our endeavour is to enhance farming practices and just as importantly, work on marketing the produce better so that the a good income is ensured for the farmers.”