Of village ponds and mentha cultivation
The pond in Lalpur village of Mohanlalganj block, Lucknow is a tranquil place. A kingfisher swoops down repeatedly hunting for its lunch while cows and goats tethered on one side graze peacefully. This is however, no ordinary pond. Till 2017, it was a filthy waterbody into which sewage and garbage from the village drained. Its bed had become hard with years of accumulated dirt, so the water in it could not recharge underground aquifers. A December 2017 intervention by WaterAid India and their field partner Vatsalya enabled the community to empty the pond, clean its bed, make four levels and refill it. Today, the pond spans four sharp gradients. The highest level stores dirty water that drains from the village. Solid contaminants settle at the bottom and the relatively cleaner water on the top decants to the second level, and so on. By the time the water decants to the fourth level, it can be used in irrigation and animal husbandry. Meanwhile, Lalpur’s residents are reaping multiple benefits from its rejuvenation.
“Earlier, we used to find water at a depth of 40 feet here,” says Hari Shankar Verma. “Already, the level has risen to 30 feet.” This has led to improved water availability even in the dry summer months. Consequently, beyond the pond, local farmers are being able to cultivate a third crop -- Mentha arvensis (menthol mint) in between the two main crops of wheat and rice. Sown in mid-February and harvested in June, Mentha yields an aromatic oil used in toothpaste, candies, pan masala and other products. Its short growing time and high yields make it a good option to supplement agricultural revenues, but there’s a catch. It requires a lot of irrigation.
“Till last year, marginal farmers like me who depend upon rains for irrigation, couldn’t have successfully planted this crop,” says Hari Shankar Verma, standing in a lush field full of this fragrant herb. “Mentha requires watering every four days!” Last year, he was able to extract 18 litres of mentha oil from his harvest from one bigha of farmland. “I was able to sell it at about Rs 900 per liter,” he says.
Hari Shankar is optimistic that with the upcoming monsoon, the pond will further recharge underground aquifers. “Cleaning up the pond has been good in every way,” he says. “Not only is it reducing our dependence on rain-fed agriculture, it has now become a picnic spot for all of us to enjoy...”