Many parts of India are reeling under the effects of the worst drought in five years. Last week, the Indian Meteorological Department declared a deficiency of 29 per cent in the southwest monsoon, increasing the number of drought-affected districts to 177. Is there something that the farmers can do to prepare for the future? ICRISAT offers advice.

In his Independence Day address, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh said, “We will provide all possible assistance to our farmers to deal with the drought.” He added that “our scientists must devise new techniques to increase the productivity of our small and marginal farmers.”

Along with this, scientists of the Hyderabad-based International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) say that it is crucial for the Government to help poor farmers to save seeds for the next cropping season.

Drought is the most crippling event in rain-fed agriculture. Not only does it have immediate impact on the livelihoods of poor farmers, its adverse impact on the economy continues in subsequent years. This year, half the cropping season has already gone by without rains in large parts of Andhra Pradesh, and traditional crops (for example groundnut that is widely grown in Anantapur) raised under normal growing conditions, have little chance to be sown at this stage.

Long term impact will be felt

“Besides causing concern for food, nutritional security and livelihood activities, the consequences of this severe drought are going to be felt for long on agriculture itself”, says Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT. “Groundnut farmers, who are holding on to their seed stock for sowing in the current kharif season cannot retain it for another six to eight months for the next cropping season because of economic considerations and also because the seed will lose its viability. These farmers will then be forced to sell their seed stock as commercial produce,” continued Dr Dar.

Dr S.N. Nigam, Principal Groundnut Scientist at ICRISAT, adds, “This situation will negate all the gains made through popularising improved groundnut varieties and providing their quality seed to farmers. We will be back to where we started when very old local varieties were dominating cultivation.”

To rebuild the quality seed stock in required quantities for future cropping seasons will take a couple of years. As a consequence of poor rains in the current kharif season, underground and other water resources will be depleted, and the future of the ensuing rabi season crop becomes uncertain. It is therefore crucial that the seed currently available with farmers is saved for the next kharif season.

Government intervention at this critical stage can help to arrest this situation, which will otherwise have a long-term effect on rain-fed agriculture. Before the seed is sold as commercial commodity by farmers in desperation, the Government should arrange to buy this seed from the farmers by opening stalls at the mandal and district levels. This seed can then be stored in various Government facilities under safe storage conditions and be made available to the farmers in the next cropping season. This will ensure that the gains made through research and development in rain-fed agriculture are not lost due to vagaries of the weather.

In view of the serious drought prevailing not only in Andhra Pradesh but in many other parts of the country, State Governments are preparing for alternate crops that could be grown in the remaining part of the cropping season. In addition to this, they should also save the future situation of the main crops by procuring seed from farmers and storing it safely for the next kharif season.

If implemented by State Governments, ICRISAT’s innovations will certainly help farmers cope with drought and water scarcity, which is becoming more felt worldwide due to climate change.

Keywords: ICRISATdroughtkharifrabi