Agri Business

Why India struggles to cope with droughts

Radheshyam Jadhav Pune | Updated on May 06, 2019

Instead of coming up with a comprehensive solution, govt's act when the situation worsens

Parts of Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan have faced four droughts in the last four years while more than 20 districts in Karnataka reeled under a drought for three years during this period. At the same Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha faced two droughts.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture the frequent droughts in the last four years not only affected the kharif and rabi crop but also destroyed kharif supplementary crops in these States.

Parts of Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand reeling under drought are also extremely vulnerable to climate change on account of not being well irrigated.

According to the Ministry of Earth Sciences and the Ministry of Science and Technology, more intense droughts have been observed over North and Northwest India and neighbouring Central India. Studies have found a significant increasing trend in the intensity and areal coverage of moderate droughts over India in recent decades.

“Although not a direct cause and effect type relationship, events like heavy rainfall and drought in different parts of the country may have possible linkages with the concurrent global warming,” the Ministries stated in an answer to a question on the effect of global warming, in the Lok Sabha in February 2019.

Using district-level data on temperature, rainfall and crop production, the Economic Survey 2017-18 has documented a long-term trend of rising temperatures, declining average precipitation, and increase in extreme precipitation events.

“The impact of temperature and rainfall is felt only in the extreme; that is, when temperatures are much higher, rainfall significantly lower, and the number of “dry days” greater, than normal. These impacts are significantly more adverse in unirrigated areas (and hence rainfed crops) compared to irrigated areas (and hence cereals)” the survey observed.

It added that applying these estimates to projected long-term weather patterns implies that climate change could reduce annual agricultural incomes in the range of 15 per cent to 18 per cent on average, and up to 20 per cent to 25 per cent for unirrigated areas.

Minimising susceptibility to climate change requires drastically extending irrigation via efficient drip and sprinkler technologies (realising “more crop for every drop”), and replacing untargeted subsidies in power and fertiliser by direct income support. More broadly, the cereal-centricity of policy needs to be reviewed, the survey suggested.

The government is implementing the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) which has eight missions in the specific areas of solar energy, energy efficiency, water, agriculture, Himalayan eco-system, sustainable habitat, green India and strategic knowledge on climate change.

No change on the ground

Thirty-two States have prepared a State Action Plan on Climate Change (SAPCC) consistent with the objectives of the NAPCC and taking into account the State’s specific issues relating to climate change. But experts and farmers allege that the government plan has remained on paper.

“Nothing is happening on the ground. There is no sense of urgency at the State and central level to tackle this issue in a comprehensive manner. There is a lack of interest among politicians and the bureaucracy, which is keen to look for temporary solutions to drought and climate change impacts,” said agriculture and climate change researcher and writer Atul Deulgaonkar. He added that the apathy towards understanding the impact of climate change on agriculture would lead to a major crisis.

“Crop failure and drought has now become a permanent scenario. The government jumps into action when the situation worsens. Fodder camps, water tankers and drought-relief funds are the answer government has for our problems. But something has gone wrong with Nature and this needs to be addressed,” says septuagenarian Anwarat Katkar from Beed in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra. “Since my childhood we have seen droughts, but the frequency and intensity is multiplying these days.”

Published on May 06, 2019

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