Second CSE Media Fellowships on 'Discovering The Desert'
December 15, 2002 – March 15, 2003
Desertification in India is today not confined to arid ecosystems. Its menacing geological spread is laying waste lands in newer regions in the country – far beyond the conventional hot and cold deserts. Yet there is very little national attention paid to this insidious phenomenon that translates into long-term loss in land resource potential. And the debate on accelerating desertification putting other ecosystems and people under stress is non-existent.
The second CSE media fellowship on desertification titled Discovering The Desert (December 15, 2002 – March 15, 2003) attempted to bring this issue into the centre of the national discourse through news stories, articles and features and provide the much-needed impetus to understand its implications. The idea was to generate an all-India picture collating facts and figures on crucial issues like drought, famine, soil infertility, crisis in grazing lands, plight of nomadic tribes, decline in forest cover and escalating water shortages.
Our advertisements for the fellowships drew an encouraging response from across the country. We were particularly heartened by the interest, enthusiasm and unstinting support of editors who were keen to force this issue into national attention. After a stringent screening process, an eminent panel of jury shortlisted 10 journalists from different parts of the country. We present to you their work and the stories they published.
Freelance writer, Grassroots
A senior journalists, Bharat Dogra, covered famine, food security and poverty in western Rajasthan. He published a series of four articles in Hindustan Times on the issue of food security in the Thar, in the context of the prolonged drought in the region: focus on close integration of relief measures with long term ecological rehabilitation and self-reliant, sustainable development. He also wrote a series on the drought in Barmer district and how the people are coping with it in the face of ham-handed and unsustainable official relief measures. This series was published in Hindi papers Rajasthan Times, Grassroots and Nai Duniya. His story on the focus on priorities for development of Thar desert in light if the fact that bringing water to the desert through IGNP has created new problems of water logging, were published in Jaipur based Vividha features.
Jayant Singh Tomar
Bureau Chief, Dainik Jagran
Morena, Madhya Pradesh
Traditional systems of environmental management in Bhind, Morena and Agra have succeeded in turning arid landscapes into prospering bread baskets was the main focus of Jayant Singh Tomar’s fellowship. He also wrote on the government’s efforts to re-green deserts backfiring as the traditional wisdom is replaced by their wisdom and the accelerating desert and ravines in Bhind, Morena in Madhya Pradesh, Etawah, Mainpuri and Agra in Uttar Pradesh and Dhaulpur and Kota in Rajasthan. His stories were published in Dainik Jagran. Mr Tomar said, “Working under the fellowship was extremely useful as I could develop an understanding for such burning issues.”
Special Correspondent, The Hindu
Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh
Desertification and resultant fall-outs in Anantapur and Mehboobnagar districts of Andhra Pradesh was the focus of Venkateshwarlu for the fellowship. He published stories on the effect of drought on the elderly members of families in Mehboobnagar and the plight of a numerous farmers and their families who lose their land and migrate to far off places in search of work. Other issues he wrote on – myopic government policies that create more problems than provide solutions in Anantapur and Mehboobnagar districts, women’s micro credit societies, drought induced large irrigation projects that also displace a lot of local people and the Anantapur watershed programme – were published in The Hindu.
Drought and desertification in Anantapur, Adilabad and Bidar. His published stories included, merits of a drinking water sanctuary in Chittoor district in Andhra Pradesh, to hold back desertification in vulnerable hilly areas; Pongamia and Jatropha trees that have helped stem desertification and rejuvenate the village economy in Chalpadi village, Adilabad district; sensible water management and cropping patterns in drought prone areas have made remarkable changes and recharged groundwater; impact of desiltation in fluoride rich areas like Anantapur and Nalgonda and the role of bio-fuels in rural development.
Correspondent, The Hindustan Times
Disappearance of the Luni river in Rajasthan and the impacts of introduction of modern technology on people and ecosystems. The stories published under the fellowship were – excessive irrigation, over cultivation and industries accelerating desertification in Bhilwara; drought of ideas and policies drying the districts of Udaipur and Rajsamand; the drying up of Luni river due to over-exploitation; drought being a direct result of mismanagement of state’s water resources and modern development strategies pushing out the traditional water management systems. On his fellowship experience, Rajesh said, “The CSE media fellowship provided an opportunity to go beyond the limits of news coverage which remains confined to reporting on current drought. It allowed me to study the causes and processes that lead to and/or aggravated the situation in areas that have never experienced such problems earlier.”
Issue of soil salinity in Maharashtra and Karnataka were his points of focus for the fellowship. He published the stories on salinity in Krishna valley, scientists apprehensions that progress work in Maharashtra would increase salinity and erosion, a farmer increases the soil fertility by growing sugarcane in Sangali district, and the role of remote sensing in curbing salinity. “I have published 9 articles in a series in various supplements of Sakal and the feedback has been very enthusiastic. The affected farmers are using the articles published by me and are preparing for desalinisation programmes. The articles have also been displayed on the notice board of agriculture colleges,” says Ravsaheb.
Aspects of jhum cultivation in the north-east, mainly – a new jhum cultivation technology; a need for an alternative to extensive jhum farming that has lead to loss in soil fertility and degradation of forests; eco-friendly jhum techniques of the Khasi people and the Nagaland Environment Protection and Economic Development through People’s Action (NEPED) project. “Through CSE media fellowship I have been able to do a special study on a particular issue. And for this I have made extensive tour in the remotest areas of the region and met the experts in the related fields, scholars and environmentalists,” said Satananda.
Situation in Changthang – the threats to its traditional inhabitants from eco-tourism. He also published stories on the diversion of streams and tributaries of the river Indus to rejuvenate the vegetation, pastures and the economy of the region. “The fellowship gave me an opportunity to know more about the Changthang wilderness and would like to carry on the study beyond the fellowship, thanks to CSE.”
Correspondent, The Statesman
Vijay Thakur wrote on the politics of drought in Rajasthan – the funds involved – and a case study of the IGNP. He also reported on the excessive irrigation problem in the erstwhile water-deficit Ganganagar and Hanuman Garh districts. Other stories he wrote about were a sheep rearing method to combat drought through judicious use of water in Bikaner district, farmers in Seekar, Churu and Jhunjhunu uniting for a cost effective proposal to divert excessive rainwater for kharif crops and flora and fauna of the desert. His stories were published in The Statesman. On his experiences as a CSE Media fellow, Vijay Thakur said, “The fellowship was rewarding and was altogether a different experience since I was working on different stories, no instructions or deadlines from my office. Secondly, it also gave me an opportunity to interact with people at the grass root level and know their real problems.”
Senior Reporter, The New Indian Express
Vinay’s area of focus was desertification in Mysore, Chamrajanagar and Mandya districts in the Cauvery basin. He published a story in the New Indian Express on the salinity and soil degradation of farmlands of these districts due to excess irrigation. The story also brought to light fields being flooded with chemical fertilizers, which will result in acidity and loss of fertility. Vinay also wrote a story on the use of borewells for irrigation in Chamrajanagar. The increasing number of borewells has led to a fall in the groundwater levels. According to Vinay, “Soon after the story was published, the agriculture department was asked to look into the problems and suggest the remedial measures to be taken in the Cauvery basin. Chief Minister S M Krishna is likely to announce the same during the budget to be presented on Friday.”
What is ‘good food’? Food that is free of contamination and adulteration, that is prepared in a way which does not harm the environment. Food that is wholesome, that does not compromise our health. The definition and understanding seems simple enough, but the issue is far more complex.