With crops surviving nearly two weeks of submergence and recovering from an intense flood, Sohabati Devi of Maharajganj has every reason to smile and be proud of her decision to plant a stress-tolerant rice variety.
Sohabati Devi, a 35-year-old farmer from Dodhghat village in the Maharajganj district of Uttar Pradesh, has been running a large household comprising eight children and an ageing father-in-law. Her oldest son is 18 years old and her youngest child is a one-year-old boy. Her husband, being a seasonal migrant worker, is often away from home. To support her family, she looks after the farming operations with some support from her father-in-law and her older children.
Instead of hiring farm labourers, Devi herself works in the fields where she grows rice, wheat, potatoes, peas, pulses, and vegetables during the kharif and rabi seasons. Their harvest is for both family consumption and sale to the market.
Combating unexpected calamity
Devi was approached by a local non-government organisation (NGO) to participate in the drought-tolerant rice variety promotion initiative facilitated by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) with the support of the state government of Uttar Pradesh.
‘After being oriented about the new stress-tolerant rice varieties, I decided to plant BINA dhan-11,’ said Devi.
BINA dhan-11 is a medium-duration (110-135 days) high-yielding variety that is tolerant of flooding. The farmers in the region have been used to growing medium-duration varieties under rain-fed conditions where intermittent dry spells due to scanty rainfall is a common phenomenon. In recent times, BINA dhan-11 has been generally selected for its higher yield potential.
The selection of BINA dhan-11 proved to be a prudent choice when the farms of Devi and her neighbours were deluged with raging floodwaters in August during the 2017 kharif season. The flood was caused by excess water flowing down from high-altitude areas of neighbouring Nepal, which had experienced heavy rains. Entire low-lying fields and villages in Maharajganj and adjoining Gorakhpur were swamped with water up to 1.8 meters deep, causing severe damages to the region’s entire transplanted rice crop. The rice crop planted only 5-6 weeks earlier would probably have a slim chance of surviving the high levels of flood water.
The farmers were caught completely unaware and unprepared as the unforeseen calamity, which came at midnight, brought widespread destruction and sorrow.
‘This kind of flooding had never been experienced for at least the last two decades,’ said Devi.
Devi was able to timely transplant her BINA dhan-11 in spite of the somewhat late arrival of the monsoon. However, she never anticipated the climate change-induced flooding that completely submerged her crop just a month and a half later.
From despair to hope
Bitterly disappointed like many of her neighbours, Devi had lost all hope of adequately providing for her family in 2017. She and her father-in-law visited the family’s flooded field the following morning to assess the damage to their rice and vegetable crops.
It definitely didn’t look good for the vegetables, but what about the rice?
After 12 days, when the water had receded, Devi and a local NGO representative went to survey her fields and evaluate the damage. Her despair suddenly changed to hope when she saw that 40-50 percent of the rice plants were still green although the rest appeared to have been badly affected. Local experts recommended immediately applying fertiliser to the surviving plants.
‘With $2 worth of fertiliser applied to my field, I noticed within a few days that my crop was gradually recovering,’ she said. ‘It was more like an astounding miracle that I was able to harvest the crop with a yield of 3.7 tonne per hectare by the end of October.’