The Resilience and Sustainability of Suranga Irrigation in the Western Ghats of India
Tripathi, Sudhir Chandra
This study focused on a little known traditional water management system, known as suranga, historically used by marginalised agricultural communities in the remote foothills of the Western Ghats in India to evaluate the resilience and sustainability of the suranga system. A hill irrigation analytical framework was used to provide a pragmatic epistemology. The research methodology was interdisciplinary, incorporating mixed methods taken from both the physical and social sciences to answer five research questions about suranga linked to their history, distribution, design principles, operational characteristics, governance, and organisation. Results suggest that suranga originate from the early 20th century. A field survey, supported by in-depth interviews of suranga users (n=173), found 700 suranga mainly distributed in fourteen villages in the Dakshin Kannada and Kasaragod districts. Data from previous studies, including this study, suggest there are a minimum of ~3000 suranga in the region as a whole. Suranga were defined as a groundwater collection gallery filtration tunnel system sourced from perched aquifers. Key strengths of the system were found to be the basic design principles, flexible excavation approaches, adaptability, clear use boundaries, relatively low construction and maintenance costs, self-regulated discharge, private ownership and management, and ease of access. Weaknesses of the system were a laborious and risky excavation process, limited water yield, non-collaboration, the absence of governance, and low earnings for suranga workers. Suranga were also found to be vulnerable to pollution, forest cover loss, and the impacts of climate change. However, suranga have contributed to a resilient and sustainable community in the past when the population, water demands, and the size of the irrigated area were low, and farm choices were limited. Currently, the suranga system may soon be unable to meet increased water demands because of population increase, intensification and reorientation of agriculture, alternative borewell technology and improved socioeconomic conditions. However, Suranga do retain some humanitarian relevance to farmers in the study area having improved the quality of life for many low-income families, but new emerging endogenous and exogenous pressures may make them vulnerable to changes in the future that cause the collapse of the system unless further adaptation occurs.
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