How farmers in North Kerala are using an age-old water system to beat the drought

After destroying them, one is rediscovering the old systems to find and conserve water.

TA Ameerudheen of Scroll points how farmers in Kerala are using the old way of finding Surangas (canals) to fight drought:

Even as Kerala reels under severe drought, Gangadhar Rao never misses a day to irrigate thousands of areca nut trees, coconut trees and pepper plants on his 30 acres of farmland.

Rao is a farmer from Bedadka Panchayath in Kerala’s northernmost district of Kasaragod and depends on Suranga for all his water needs — irrigation and domestic — round the year.

Suranga is commonly found in the hilly regions of North Kerala and South Karnataka. It is estimated that Kasaragod district alone has over 5,000 Suranga.Suranga in Kannada means tunnel. It is known as Thurangam, Thorapu and Mala in Malayalam.

Rao’s farmland has more than 30 Suranga, but a majority of them are dysfunctional. “We excavate new Suranga when water discharge from the old one goes down. Now I depend on just two Suranga,” says Rao.

“Crops in my land never faced the vagaries of summer thanks to Suranga that release copious amounts of water even at the peak of summer.”

A Suranga is constructed by the horizontal excavation of laterite hills until a good amount of water is struck. Water seeps out of the rock and flows out of the tunnel like a narrow stream. It is collected in a reservoir made of mud, known as Madhaka, just outside the Suranga. The water flows into the reservoir round the clock, and it doesn’t need electricity to pump.

A normal tunnel well is 500 cm to 700 cm wide and two metres high. The length varies between 200 and 300 metres. Longer wells contain many vertical shafts to ensure atmospheric pressure inside.

Digging a Suranga is a tedious task, combining traditional knowledge and the skills of a labourer.­ Of late, Kasaragod is facing a dearth of labourers with the technical knowledge to undertake the challenging job. The reluctance of youngsters to take it up as a profession has only worsened the situation. It is left to veterans such as Chaliyan Kunhambu to keep the tradition of Suranga excavation alive.


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