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Farming and Ma Ganga

 Farming techniques along Ma Ganga have led to pollutant concentration, reduced water flow, and erosion. Every day, there is runoff from 6 million tons of fertilizers and 9,000 tons of pesticides used in agriculture within the Ganga basin (1). As the agriculture industry developed, increasing by 4 times from the 1960s to the 2000s, there has been an increase in adopting high-yield variety crops which require large water inputs and high usage of fertilizers and pesticides. Coupled with mono-cropping and blind tillage, these components lead to increased soil erosion and degradation, depleted nutrients, and a loss of biodiversity in the soil (2). Thus, the process creates a cycle where more fertilizers and pesticides are required to ensure agricultural yield, which then runoff into Ma Ganga leading to increases in pollutant concentration. Biochemical oxygen demand is used to gauge pollution that comes from these sources. In a study where India’s Central Pollution Control Board tested 56 sites, 21 of these sites had excess biochemical oxygen demand indicating large amounts of these pollutants. Among these pollutants are chemicals like DDT and HCH, both considered toxic and are effectively killing large populations of fish and other forms of aquatic life in the rivers (3).


Further pressure on Ma Ganga comes from the irrigation of the fields. Over 95% of farmers in a field study adopt “flooding” as the medium for irrigating their fields, and as more and more water intensive crops are being cultivated, the agriculture industry is abstracting more and more water from Ma Ganga, increasing pollutant concentration as a direct result. In the same study, 73% of farmers realize that the aquatic life in Ma Ganga is on a negative trajectory, and about 81% of farmers felt that additional water supplies should be ensured in Ma Ganga to sustain Ganga’s aquatic biodiversity (4). 

Farming and Irrigation:
Issues and Challenges


Farming and Irrigation:
Programs and Policies in Place

Officials from Uttar Pradesh’s Irrigation Department have released suggestions, including that efficient farm level water use shall be promoted and practiced, there should be an awareness campaign toward irrigation water use efficiency, and more of a reliance on organic farming with the promotion of less water intensive crops (4). The National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) which was given a legal backing through River Ganga (Rejuvenation, Protection and Management) Authorities Order, 2016 has listed similar principles including that lost natural vegetation in catchment areas shall be regenerated and maintained, aquatic and riparian biodiversity in River Ganga Basin shall be regenerated and conserved, and the Bank of River Ganga and its flood plains shall be a construction free zone to reduce pollution sources, pressures and to maintain its natural ground water recharge. When protected, flood plains moderate flooding, improve groundwater quality, stabilize river bands, maintain high biodiversity, improve water quality, and filter sediments, chemicals and nutrients from upslope sources. The River Regulation Zone, first initiated in 2002, aims to undertake zonation within Ma Ganga’s floodplains so that activities within the floodplains can be legally prohibited or regulated. However, with changes in administrations and officials, the nationwide River Regulation Zone still remains a possibility rather than a reality. As individuals and communities begin and continue to conserve the river bank, initiatives like the River Regulation Zone should also be implemented to ensure the true restoration of Ma Ganga (5).

Sustainable Agriculture

Sustainable agriculture is one of the most effective ways to reduce issues associated with current farming techniques. By using a cropping pattern based on “Climate-Soil-Crop” relation, sustainable agriculture uses native seeds that require much less fertilizer and water, therefore decreasing the dependence on the irrigation systems. Demand for water is further reduced by traditional mixed cropping and agroforestry practices like using leaf litter/biomass for mulching, which act as a wind barrier, or practicing no tillage in the summer. Both practices reduce evapotranspiration as water is retained in the soil, reducing the demand for water. For example, by increasing organic matter in the soil, aka using leaves and other biomass for mulching, water demand was reduced by 30% in mustard and Bengal gram (5).

What Can Individuals and Communities Do?

  • Plant trees and vegetation along Ma Ganga's river bank, this also includes tributaries

  • ​Practice organic/sustainable farming:​

    • Practice no tillage in the summer months​

    • Use biomass (ex: leaves) as a mulch and organic fertilizer

    • Use native crops that are not high yield as to reduce the usage of water, pesticides, insecticides, and fertilizers

    • Use biopesticide (6)

  • Advocate for better irrigation infrastructure to make irrigation systems more efficient​


  • Tree planting:
    The National Mission for Clean Ganga with HCL as the corporate social responsibility (CSR) partner and INTACH as the executing agency has begun a project to plant 10,000 Rudraksh saplings in the mid-Himalayas of Uttarakhand with the help of local communities and school children. The Rudraksh tree had steadily diminished in India, despite the Rudraksh being a sacred bead (Shiva’s tears). So, along with being a form of catchment treatment, as the trees mature, the beads will provide supplemental income to the villages in whose Gram Sabha lands the plantation is undertaken. To prevent monoculture, local trees such as banj, khirsu, and pangar have been interspersed with these Rudraksh saplings (7).

  • 60 teachers and students of Nazareth Academy, Mokama, planted tree saplings of all kinds on the bank of Ma Ganga. In hopes of creating a forest to act not only to strengthen the barrier for the river, but also to serve as an attraction in the before forestless region, the group planted 5,000 trees (8).

    • Some nonprofits that provide trees in India (9)

      • Green Yatra

      • Project Green Hands

      • Sankalp Taru

      • Say Trees

      • Siruthuli

      • Some village councils provide saplings for free (10)

  • Organic farms (11):​



  1. Rai, Basant. “Pollution and Conservation of Ganga River in Modern India.” International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications, Apr. 2013.

  2. Kumar, Rakesh. “Sustainable Agriculture in Ganga Basin.” Rashtriyakrishi, no. 2, Dec. 2017,

  3. “Agricultural Management.” Ganga Action Parivar, 2020,

  4. Kaushal, Nitin, et al. “Towards a Healthy Ganga—Improving River Flows Through Understanding Trade Offs | Environmental Science.” Frontiers, Frontiers, 25 June 2019,

  5. Rejuvenating Ganga- A Citizen’s Report. Organizing Committee- WWF, Intach, Toxics Link, Sandrp, Peoples’ Science Institute, Peace Institute, 26 Nov. 2018,

  6. Mishra, Jitendra et al. “Biopesticides in India: technology and sustainability linkages.” 3 Biotech vol. 10,5 (2020). 

  7. National Mission for Clean Ganga. Namami Gange Magazine. June 2020,

  8. Hurst, Spalding. “Planting Trees along the Ganges | Sisters of Charity of Nazareth.” Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, 20 Nov. 2020,

  9. “5 Notable Tree Plantation NGOs In India.” Tree Plantation NGO in Pune - Tree Planting Program, 2018,

  10. Rajendran, K. “What Is ‘Tree Banking’ - and How Is It Helping This Indian Village Reach Net Zero?” World Economic Forum, 10 Feb. 2022,

  11. Uppal, Megha. “Clean Living 101: India’s Best Sustainable Farms to Get Organic Food.” Lifestyle Asia India, 17 May 2020,


Written by: Suzanna Schofield

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