Changing weather patterns and a dreaded delay in monsoon rains elsewhere in India, particularly in the western states, have had little impact on the agricultural scene in Gujarat where sowing has so far been reported in six lakh hectares (ha), even as the monsoon rains are yet to drench most of the state.

The State Government is not worried, as of now. “Until July 15, we have no reason to be worried about any delay in rains”, a senior government official told Business Line today. With the Narmada waters from Sardar Sarovar dam now reaching many thirsty areas, the problem of drinking water is not as acute as in the late 1990s when drinking water from Gandhinagar had been sent by train to Jamnagar, a distance of 325 km.

This year, the State Government is expecting sowing in 88 lakh ha for the kharif crop, with cotton and groundnut accounting for nearly 26 lakh ha and 18 lakh ha, respectively, followed by castor and paddy (six lakh ha each).

Most of the sowing—in about 4.50 lakh ha—has so far been reported from the cotton and groundnut growing areas of the Saurashtra region.

Interestingly, sowing in about 1.50 lakh ha, out of six lakh ha, was done in the month of May itself, under the mid-summer Sun, in the otherwise arid Banaskantha and Sabarkantha districts in North Gujarat.

Bordering Rajasthan, this area heavily depends on water harvesting and drip and sprinkler irrigation, rather than on erratic monsoon rains.

Clearly, farmers in the two North Gujarat districts, who have often been unsure of any significant rainfall, did not even wait for the onset of monsoon rains and completed sowing before anybody did anywhere else, thanks to the empowerment brought in by modern irrigation methods.

Over the last decade, Gujarat has successfully fought the recurring droughts of the previous decade (1990-2000) by constructing check-dams on a massive scale to stop wastage of scarce rainfall in many areas.

Now, the State boasts of 1.46 lakh check-dams, with Banaskantha and Sabarkantha districts accounting for about 7,000 each. These check-dams have also recharged groundwater resources.

Also, the expansion of drip and sprinkler irrigation facilities over the last five years has been phenomenal. The area under these irrigation technologies increased from 15,892 ha in 2005-06 to 3.24 lakh ha while the number of farmers using these means went up from 7,200 to 2.02 lakh during the same period. Predictably, Banaskantha (47,208 ha) and Sabarkantha (35,710 ha) topped the list, followed by Kutch (14,625 ha) and Mehsana (3,895 ha).

Last year, around 86 lakh ha were brought under kharif cultivation in the 226 talukas of 26 districts in Gujarat. The 10-year average annual rainfall of 900 mm had been reported by August-end by when most of the 200-odd small, medium and big dams were overflowing due to bountiful rains in July-August.

Gujarat had reported sowing in nearly 11 lakh hectares by June 30 last year in the backdrop of cyclonic, pre-monsoon rains had lashed many areas that had made the soil ready for sowing even before the monsoons lashed the state. Since 2008, the pattern of rains has changed in Gujarat which starts getting normal monsoon rains only in the month of July. Last month, heavy pre-monsoon rains were reported in Porbandar and Junagarh districts of Saurashtra, making sowing of groundnut and cottonseeds possible there.

In 2009, Gujarat’s agricultural production had been praised by the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) for achieving 9.6% growth as against the national average of 4% in 2007-08. IFPRI had also applauded the State Government’s annual “Krishi Mahotsava” to encourage the stake-holders to achieve new farm records. This year, too, the seventh Mahotsava was held across the state in May-June prior to the onset of monsoon, in which government officials fanned out to villages encouraging about a million farmers to improve productivity by using latest farming methods and technologies.

(This article was published on July 1, 2011)
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