Water Chestnut comes to rescue paddy growers

Paddy growers in North 24-Parganas have turned to water chestnut cultivation in monsoon months to combat problems of flooding in their fields

Water Chestnut cultivation in waterlogged land in North 24 Parganas

The tiny dark green fruit  being sold in piles from markets in Kolkata. Its cheap and one of the healthiest supplements in one’s diet. Water chestnut or paniphal  is available in Kolkata markets in abundance and it is, by far, one of the cheapest and healthiest fruits in one’s diet. The cultivation of water chestnut has boomed in the last few years. The fruit that is both cheap and nutritious is being widely cultivated in North 24-Parganas on the same marshy land where paddy is cultivated.  Water chestnut produced in North 24-Parganas in places like Deganga, Haroa, Minakha and other parts of the Sunderbans is now being supplied to different parts of Howrah, Hooghly, East Midnapore, Calcutta, Salt Lake and also to Bihar and Jharkhand.

Bheri  (a water body in which pisciculture is done) owners in these parts of the district, however, pose the biggest problem for paddy growers in these areas.  They conspire to submerge the agricultural land and salty river water around the bheris to spread their business.

The bheri owners usually dig out canals from Raymangal, Vidyadhari and Matla rivers that flow along the vast agricultural land of the district to fill the bheris with sufficient water for pisciculture. During monsoon most of the agriculture land is submerged under waist-deep water as the canals are blocked by lock gates, thus, stopping rainwater from flowing back into the river. Such measures turn agricultural land into water bodies. In the past, farmers were forced to sell such land to bheri owners at throwaway prices. But now they have opted water chestnut cultivation.

“Since the fields are submerged, it is impossible to grow paddy. It is useless to protest against the bheri owners, because they are powerful and are protected by local administration and politicians. They can even kill us but no action will be taken against them. So we have decided to grow water chestnut instead of paddy,” said a farmer who did not want to be identified.

Most of the farmers that this www.kolkatawire.com correspondent spoke to said that the intention of the bheri owners was to damage paddy fields around their bheri by letting all rainwater drain out into them so that the fields become unfit for paddy cultivation and poor farmers are forced to sell them off at throwaway prices.

“We found water chest nut cultivation to be lucrative. We start cultivation from the middle of August and continue till end of November. Since monsoon was prolonged this year, the cultivation will continue till the end of December. Vishwakarma Puja, Durga Puja, Kali Puja,  Lakshmi Puja and Chhat Puja are observed during this period. So the demand of

Picking and packaging the fruit for transportation
Selling paniphal in local trains

is high during this period, ” said a farmer.  According to farmers, the yield per bigha is anything between 100-130 kgs and they earned around Rs 40,000 with only three months of water chestnut cultivation.

Anandamoy Pusti, a researcher on aquatic plants associated with Bidhan Chandra Krishi Viswa Vidyalaya,  said, “Water chestnut is a fruit with rich food value. It contains 90 per cent water, 23.3 per cent carbohydrates, 4.7 per cent protein, 0.2 per cent fat, 0.6 per cent  fibre and 1.1 per cent mineral salt. Besides garlic acid found in water chest nut is used for the treatment of stomach cancer. Herbal abir is made from the fruit in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat and a special type of flour produced from the fruit is very delicious and healthy. ”