Not enough being done to tackle drought: Experts

With several states reeling under a drought-like situation as they await the monsoon, experts have pointed out that not enough is being done to deal with the situation arising out of scanty rainfall.

Drought management, they say, assumes significance in view of changing weather patterns.

“We are not prepared to handle the effects of climate change on agriculture. It is reflected through our management of drought situation in states like Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh,” veteran agricultural scientist M.S. Swaminathan said.

“As the effects of climate change manifest, there will be unprecedented droughts and some areas will receive more rain…” said Swaminathan, known as the father of India’s Green Revolution.

For 2012, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has downgraded the monsoon forecast to 96 percent from the April forecast of 99 percent.

As per IMD standards, an average or normal monsoon means rainfall between 96 and 104 percent of a 50-year average of 89 cm during a four-month season from June. Rainfall below 90 percent of the average is considered to result in a drought.

While a deficit monsoon has so far not been announced, the drought-like situation in several states has already had a negative impact on agricutlture and also resulted in several farmers’ suicides.

In the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, a cotton-growing region worst-hit by drought, 332 farmers have committed suicide till May this year, according to figures by farmer’s organisation Vidarbha Janandolan Samiti.

As per data from the central government, some 109 farmers committed suicide in Andhra Pradesh till February-end in the 2011-12 fiscal. Suicides were also reported from Odisha, West Bengal and other states, mostly due to crop failure following low rainfall and inability to pay off debts.

The experts, however, point out that the government indulges only in “post-mortem action”, instead of planning in advance.

“Instead of indulging in post-mortem action every time, we need to plan in advance. For example, the rain-surplus years should be well utilised by storing the extra produce; doing rainwater harvesting to charge the natural water bodies and ground water… so that in rain deficit years, the effect of drought is mitigated,” Swaminathan said.

G.V. Ramanjaneyulu, executive director of Hyderabad’s Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, pointed out that the problem is lack of planning for rain-fed areas overall.

Rain-fed areas are the areas which depend on rains and have no irrigation. According to the agriculture department, 60 percent of India’s net sown area is rain-fed.

“There are areas which are hit by drought every year, but still there is no contingency plan,” Ramanjaneyulu lamented.

“The plan should be, say, if rain is delayed for 15 days, what is the plan B? If it is delayed for 30 days, what is plan C?” he said.

He also said the stress on irrigation-intensive crops post the Green Revolution and no encouragement to organic farming had added to the problem.

“These areas which are prone to drought have a particular cropping pattern of coarse grains and millets which require less water. But these crops are not promoted. Moreover, organic farming requires less water than chemical fertiliser and insecticides, but there is no subsidy for it,” he said.

Communist Party of India-Marxist MP and chairman of parliament’s standing committee on agriculture Basudeb Acharia agreed that there are shortcomings in planning. “We will take it up in the standing committee,” he said.

“We will advise the government that floods and droughts come every year, yet a lot more needs to be done,” he said.

A special parliament session on agriculture was also demanded by several MPs during the previous budget and winter sessions. However, the government hasn’t reacted to this so far.