When Matiur Rahman first ventured into fruit farming in Chapainawabganj’s Jhilim union in 2011, the major obstacle he had to meet head on was the ongoing water crisis in the northwest.
“The nearest water source was two and a half kilometres away,” he said.
He started lifting water from the distant source — a deep tubewell installed by Barind Multipurpose Development Authority (BMDA) but it dried up in six years.
“I felt helpless,” Matiur, a Roads and Highways Department driver, said.
Experts have observed people in the region are struggling to get drinking water while many paddy farmers are either diversifying to less water-intensive crops or converting their croplands to ponds and brick kilns.
The region is characterised by decreasing rainfall and depleting groundwater levels, mostly extracted for paddy farming, rice mill operations, and other industrial purposes.
“The situation is worsening as some people are withdrawing everyone’s share of the groundwater,” said a prominent hydrologist, Prof Chowdhury Sarwar Jahan of Rajshahi University.
Apart from paddy fields, at least 35 auto rice mills in Jhilim union, which covers 23.45 square kilometres of area, use groundwater round the clock, heavily affecting the aquifer, he said.
On a recent visit to union, this correspondent observed rice mills on both sides of the Amnura-Chapainawabganj road.
Mansur Rahman, general secretary of Chapainawabganj Rice Mill Owners Association, said each of the 35 rice mills of the union has at least three deep tubewells.
Mansur’s Sagar Auto Rice Mills has six. “We have no other water options for running our businesses,” he said.
Md Mostafa, a farmer of Collegepara village in Jhilim, shifted from paddy to lentil cultivation.
“Many cultivable fields, where we cropped three times a year before, are now uncultivable because of a dearth of water,” he said.
Matiur’s venture, for instance, would have been nipped in the bud, without water.
In 2016, the NGO Development Association for Self-reliance, Communication and Health (DASCOH) gave him a water-pump and introduced him to drip irrigation, a water-saving method that allows water to drip slowly to the roots of plants, either above the soil surface or buried below it.
He has now grown into one of the country’s most successful fruit farmers receiving multiple government awards in five years.
However, not all farmers in the Barind region have been as lucky as Matiur and abuse of water resources is rampant.
Unchecked industrial and agricultural use of water has depleted groundwater in a region which also saw lower than average rainfall in recent years.
On a visit to Rajshahi’s Godagari upazila on March 22, this correspondent observed the Sormongola canal, which is supposed to supply water from the Padma river to nearby agricultural fields, running dry while private deep tubewells have been installed on both sides of the canal.
Read more:: Groundwater abuse takes toll on Barind