The agriculture ministry must take adequate steps to plan strategies

The lessons learned from the 2009 drought could be the guiding factor to prevent a repeat in loss of agriculture production.

“The indication of a below normal monsoon in North West and South India by the experts of the Meteorological Department during a conference was a wakeup call to all concerned.

“Since Kharif season is monsoon-dependent, any forecast on the delayed or abnormal rain fall must be taken seriously,” says Dr.V.Rajagopal formerly Director of Central Plantations Crop Research Institute (CPCRI) Kasaragod and an expert on drought research for over four decades.

Possible drought

The official forecast was made on the monsoon by the Indian Meteorology Department during mid May, followed by the Union Agriculture Minister issuing a warning on a possible drought.

“There is need for the Ministry of Agriculture to take adequate steps now itself to plan the strategies,” he says.

The lessons learned from the past when there were problems to face the drought must serve as guiding factor for preparedness to help the farmers to overcome the vagaries of weather.

During that year over 50 lakh hectare area with rice crop suffered due to delayed monsoon and the seedlings almost died, which resulted in a huge loss of over 13 million tonnes.

“As many as 262 districts were declared as in the ‘deficient’ rainfall zone. Sugarcane and many horticulture crops also faced adverse impact of drought; food inflation followed.

The unpreparedness of all concerned departments to manage the situation caused by an unprecedented drought in recent years was evident,: lamented Dr. Rajagopal.

Adverse impact

It was definitely avoidable and the adverse impact could have been minimized had the contingency plans been in place at the right time.

Since sizable area in the Southern region is rain fed, with many important crops like millets and oil seeds with high nutritive value, and many farmers depend for their livelihood, the dry land farming technologies developed by the ICAR Institutes and the ICRISAT need to be implemented with contingency plans during / after the sowing season of various crops.

“The advisory team comprising scientists from the Institutes, State Agriculture Universities and the extension personnel from the Department of Agriculture/Horticulture/Veterinary and Fisheries must be on alert to come to the rescue of the farmers in case of an impending drought situation.

“Any sign of unpreparedness is bound to reflect not only on deficit in agriculture production but extraordinary distress among the farmers whose suicidal tendencies will increase,” he warns.

High demand

The country cannot afford to lose more farmers when the demand for food production is pretty high to feed millions of citizens.

As many small farmers in the country depend on rainfall during the farm operations, they have to be educated adequately on the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ during the occurrence of drought, based on value addition to weather data.

Their helplessness was evident during 2009 when some farmers in drought affected areas were not guided properly about the seed materials, sowing operations and alternate approaches.

In Anantapur District of Andhra Pradesh, the delayed distribution of groundnut seeds to farmers after the rainfall affected the entire field operations, and therefore their income.

This resulted in heavy economic losses, which forced some of them to borrow money from the lenders at high interest rates.

Farmer suicides

Failure to repay the debts culminated in suicides. The fact that Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh States topped the list for high farmer suicides reflect on the unsatisfactory remedial measures to compensate the losses suffered due to drought like conditions.

Dr. Rajagopal published a book on ‘Drought tolerant crop species of India’ in 1996, with over 80 crops well documented on all aspects.

“It is time to update the same, so that the promising drought resistant varieties of crops are made available to the farmers in drought prone areas,” he says.

He feels that an inventory of such varieties with reasonable high yield even under low moisture availability must be the priority.

Bridge the gap

One way of bridging the gap between the potential yield and actual yield will be to replace the drought susceptible varieties with relatively resistant/tolerant varieties to sustain overall production, according to him.

Contact Dr. V.Rajagopal at e mail, mobile: 094412 00217.