Failure or severe shortfall of rain during the last few years has led to distress among farmers and the people at large, especially in North Interior Karnataka (NIK) and the coast. Although NIK is geographically and historically drought- prone, climate change and climate variability have exacerbated an already distressed situation.
Slowly but surely the total number of rainy days in a year are declining, which suggests that intensive rain is increasing, that doesn’t bode well for crops. Besides declining rainy days, spatial and temporal variations are rising, suggesting that NIK will in future see much harsher and extreme climatic conditions.
Water resources too are fast declining, as the replenishment rate is much more slower than extraction. Almost all the taluks in NIK were drought-hit during the Rabi season and this was followed by severe shortfall in the pre-monsoon. Some 120 taluks have been declared severely drought- hit and another 50 as moderately drought- hit. But NIK is more drought prone than South Interior Karnataka(SIK) as the region is relatively warmer and receives lesser rain, which exposes its crops to higher temperature and moisture stress, often leading to partial or complete crop failure.
Also, with NIK being home to more large and undulating land holdings it struggles with widespread water and soil erosion, lower fertility and organic matter levels especially in the shallow and medium deep soils. When we look at the rainfall pattern of the last 18 years across the state, it’s evident that the whole of the Hyderabad Karnataka region, Vijayapura, Gadag, Bagalkote, Chitradurga and eastern parts of Belagavi, Dharwad and Davanageri districts have experienced drought over 13 to 15 years.
The solution lies in both short / medium and long term strategies. In the short term, the government must continue its programmes under which farmers, especially the small and marginal, are provided subsidized / discounted high quality seeds, organic and microbial culture based fertilisers, pesticides and farm machinery and equipment. This should be equally supported by banks through agriculture credit at minimum or nominal interest.
Another way to enhance farmers’ income is through a scientific and economically appropriate Minimum Support Price (MSP). Despite the recent marginal enhancement of MSP, the actual cost of cultivation is still not fully accounted for.
Including the zonally / regionally cultivated predominant crops in the Public Distribution System (PDS) could be another short term solution as this will provide a reliable market for the farmers. PDS in India has always been dominated by two cereal crops, rice and wheat, whose prices do not vary much from season to season. But where other crops like greengram, pigeonpea, bengalgram rabi sorghum, ragi and bajra are concerned, the open market price fluctuates heavily, leaving the farmers at high risk. These crops should be included in the PDS system and procured at MSP rates for re-distribution among the BPL families in the same region to reduce transportation cost and wastage in warehouse storage.
Another way to help farmers earn more is to develop village mandis / markets along with construction of warehouses and threshing yards in hoblis and gram panchayats. This will help reduce transportation cost as well as distress sale. Agro-based private enterprises established under public-private partnership basis and farmers’ produce organisations should be encouraged to build threshing yards, warehouses and custom hiring centres.
Also, involving the farmers themselves in all government -sponsored programmes will make them equal partners and help them understand their responsibilities. For instance, farmers could be trained in not only how to use soil and water conservation structures, but also in maintaining them.
Going one step further, the government must link benefits of subsidised inputs and farm machineries to farmers’ initiatives in agriculture and investment in drought-proofing activities.
With water being at the heart of farming in NIK , enhancing Water Use Efficiency should be the focus of the government as well as the farmers. This can easily be achieved through adoption of advanced irrigation methods like sprinklers, and surface-drip and sub-surface drip methods in all the high yielding row crops.
With an erratic monsoon pattern, our focus should now be on using irrigation with advanced methods only during critical stages so that more and more area under cereals, pulses, oilseeds and other crops is saved from partial or full crop failure due to moisture stress and able to realise above average yield from all the sown acreage.
The long term strategies should include planting trees on marginal and wastelands, on farm bunds, diversifying farming with inclusion of perennial fruit crops and timber based crops, land levelling, building farm ponds and check dams between fields across water ways to harvest rain water, and store it both on- and off- farm to help grow successful crops and enhance ground water recharge.
As animals are a must for small and marginal farmers, fodder based crops like legumes, pulses, bajra, sorghum and wheat should be encouraged. Fodder and water banks must be ready by March each year and sheep and goat rearing encouraged as they are climate and drought- resilient animals. Desi cows best suited to the local climate must also be bred and popularised.
The government must come out with incentives for growing less water consuming and drought tolerant crops and research on crop improvement in coming decades must focus more on developing drought and heat- tolerant crop varieties to cope with climate change. It’s good that the state government has a plan in place to take up cloud seeding in July if the monsoon fails to pick up pace. Such technological interventions as and when required go a long way in avoiding drought -like situations.
It’s time that farmers, who flood irrigate their crops, are taxed / fined as water is national resource and no individual can claim ownership of it. Farmers will also have to shoulder their responsibility and adopt high efficient irrigation methods and soil/crop management measures for best outcomes.
— The author Dr R.H. Patil is a head, Department of Agricultural Meteorology, UAS Dharwad...