Suresh Ponnusami sat back on his porch by the road south of the Indian textile town of Tirupur. He was not rich, but for the owner of a two-acre farm in the backwoods of a developing country he was doing rather well. He had a TV, a car, and a maid to bring him drinks and ensure his traditional white Indian robes were freshly laundered every morning.
The source of his wealth, he said, was a large water reservoir beside his house. And as we chatted, a tanker drew up on the road. The driver dropped a large pipe from his vehicle into the reservoir and began sucking up the contents.
Ponnusami explained: “I no longer grow crops, I farm water. The tankers come about ten times a day. I don’t have to do anything except keep my reservoir full.” To do that, he had drilled boreholes deep into the rocks beneath his fields, and inserted pumps that brought water to the surface 24 hours a day. He sold every tanker load for about four dollars. “It’s a good living, and it’s risk-free,” he said. “While the water lasts.”
A neighbor told me she does the same thing. Water mining was the local industry. But, she said, “every day the water is reducing. We drilled two new boreholes a few weeks ago and one has already failed.”
Surely this is madness, I suggested. Why not go back to real farming before the wells run dry? “If everybody did that, it would be well and good,” she agreed. “But they don’t. We are all trying to make as much money as we can before the water runs out.”