Artificial Glaciers Ensure Irrigation Water to Farmers In Ladakh and Help Build Climate Resilience

The Leh Nutrition Project, a non-profit, is working with village communities in the cold desert district to build artificial glaciers that slowly release water during the sowing season in April-May.

  • Whatsapp
  • Telegram
  • Linkedin
  • koo
  • Whatsapp
  • Telegram
  • Linkedin
  • koo
  • Whatsapp
  • Telegram
  • Linkedin
  • koo
Artificial Glaciers Ensure Irrigation Water to Farmers In Ladakh and Help Build Climate Resilience

An artificial glacier holds the melt-water that flows down the mountains into streams and ultimately rivers. It is stored within the bunds, freezes in layers, and used when it melts in the springtime, just when the fields need watering. All Photos by SEEDS. 

Changthang is a high-altitude cold desert in Leh district of the Union Territory of Ladakh. The people in this region, the Changpas, are predominantly nomadic pastoralists, but they do practise agriculture.

While once these were just limited to growing what they needed for themselves, like wheat, barley, turnips, cabbage and fodder, over the years agriculture has grown into a livelihood for many here.

“We grow crops like peas, potatoes, barley, wheat and sometimes mustard seeds. But because peas and potatoes are cash crops, we give preference to them. The months of cultivation are from May to October,” said Tseirng Motup, a farmer from Nang village.

There are almost 75-80 households in this village and all of them are farmers who were struggling with water shortage in the sowing months.

Tsering Motup’s father, 58-year-old Angdus Motup, said, “In the past few years snowfall has declined and crops were failing due to water scarcity.”

Also Read: World Toilet Day: Much To Learn from Ladakh’s Dry Toilets

But, an innovation in the traditional wisdom of water harvesting technique, is helping create artificial glaciers, which has brought cheer to farmers like Tsering in Ladakh.

These water harvesting methods — artificial glaciers — have been introduced by the non-profit Leh Nutrition Project, which has been working in the region for the past 40 years.

These artificial glaciers hold the melt-water that flows down the mountains into streams and ultimately rivers. Some of that water, instead of flowing off, is stored and used when it melts in the springtime, just when the fields need watering.

An innovation in the traditional wisdom of water harvesting technique, is helping create artificial glaciers, which has brought cheer to farmers like Tsering in Ladakh.

“Villages in Ladakh are experiencing decrease in water availability in the crucial sowing season and 90 per cent of farmers are dependent on snowfall water for irrigation,” Chotak Gyatso, the 58-year-old executive director of Leh Nutrition Project, told Gaon Connection.

The non-profit has helped create artificial glaciers in villages in Changthang. “These glaciers are ensuring the farmers have water at hand when it is time to irrigate their lands at the time of sowing. So far about 15 villages in Leh district have benefitted from artificial glaciers,” said Gyatso.

Sabo, Nang, Stakmo, Sakti, Igoo, Shara, Phuktsy, Tsaga and Mudh are some of the villages that have benefitted from these artificial glaciers. On an average, two to three such glaciers have been created in each village.

This project in Leh has received support from New Delhi-based non-profit, Sustainable Environment and Ecological Development Society (SEEDS), which recently onboarded 11 grassroots organisations to pivot its ‘climate resilience through innovation’ campaign.

Called ‘Flip the Notion’, SEEDS showcased their work at an event in New Delhi. Leh Nutrition Project is one of the 11 innovators chosen under the project.

What is an artificial glacier?

Padma Shri awardee Chewang Norphel is popularly known as the ‘Ice Man of Ladakh’ is the first person who worked on creating artificial glaciers in Ladakh. He has built over 17 artificial glaciers in the region.

It is known that he took inspiration from his childhood observations and made a breakthrough by originating the first artificial glacier in Leh, which resulted in solving a water crisis faced by the local community.

An artificial glacier holds the melt-water that flows down the mountains into streams and ultimately rivers. It is stored within the bunds, freezes in layers, and used when it melts in the springtime, just when the fields need watering.

Artificial glacier is built with traditional wisdom and introduces and combines modern engineering techniques, said Anshu Sharma, Co-Founder, SEEDS.

“A cascading artificial glacier is a water harvesting technique that involves the construction of cascade type retaining walls in stone masonry over a stream to conserve the water in the form of ice. It gradually melts during the sowing season, providing a valuable water source for ground water recharge, rejuvenation of springs and irrigation,” he explained to Gaon Connection. ​

Also Read: Cabbage, cauliflower, tomatoes and spinach — Ladakhi farmers grow vegetables in sub-zero temperatures

For the last few years, we have been using crate mesh to make it more resilient and sustainable for a longer period. It is climate resilient approach as well, Sharma added.

Talking about the benefits of artificial glaciers, Gyatso said that it is a simple technology. “The water freezes over layer by layer and fills the stone enclosure. As the weather warms up gradually in April/ May, the water begins to melt and is ready for use in the fields,” he said.

The water from the artificial glaciers is available to the farmers just at the right time of sowing. The meltwater from the natural glaciers on the other hand, comes in only much later.

“Villages in Ladakh are experiencing an accelerated flow of water during the summer months, but there is a decrease in water availability during the crucial sowing season. Non-availability of water at the right time can impact agriculture and thereby the economy and food-security of the region,” pointed out Gyatso.

And artificial glaciers are trying to address this problem.

Depending on the number of bunds to be built each artificial glacier can cost between Rs three lakhs to fifteen lakhs. “More bunds are built if the requirement for water is more,” said Gyatso. The money comes through CSR funds or government schemes, he said.

Spreading Smiles

The simple and cost-effective technique for harnessing and conserving water in high-altitude་ regions, is having happy consequences.

“Since we are using the water generated from artificial glaciers nearly 3,000 - 4,000 households are able to use that water in their farms,” Gyatso said.

Tseirng Motup, a farmer from Nang village, told Gaon Connection how artificial glaciers in his village have brought prosperity as farmers like him are able to sow vegetables and other crops, as there is an assured supply of irrigation water.

According to Sharma, the artificial glacier is the paramount example of coexistence of climate science and traditional wisdom.

The water from the artificial glaciers is available to the farmers just at the right time of sowing. The meltwater from the natural glaciers on the other hand, comes in only much later.

“Answers to all climate change problems can be found in the roots of geography and science can leverage it. However, there are local sensitivities that must be kept in mind to make the approach people friendly,” said the co-founder of SEEDS.

For example, Ladakhi society considers water and sources of water as sacred and avoids human activities causing pollution at such locations as far as possible. This has to be kept into consideration while developing plans and implementing projects, he said.

With inputs from Laraib Fatima Warsi.

#artificialglaciers #climateresilience #ladakh 

Next Story

More Stories


© 2019 All rights reserved.