Drought Effects on Livelihoods


    Joseph Viruthiyel

    Failure of monsoon in 2009 threatened the projected growth rate of 6.1 percent of the Indian economy as 278 (44%) out of 820 districts were affected by drought. Of these, 58 were in Uttar Pradesh, the largest food grain producing State. Rains were 29 percent below average during the four month period beginning 1st June. The latter is the monsoon period accounting for 80% of the rainfall. About 20 percent of India’s domestic product comes from agriculture, which constitutes the livelihood of 1.14 billion people. The monsoon failure therefore will severely affect food security and growth rate is likely to fall.

    A diagnostic study on the effects of the drought was undertaken by the Lucknow branch of Agricultural Finance Corporation recently. The objective of the study was to make a realistic assessment of the effects of drought on production and productivity of kharif crops, its impact on various stages of crop growth, adaptation measures of farmers against drought, their access to crop loan and crop insurance and their preparedness to face adverse climatic events. The study also analyzes the differential effects of drought on farmers of different holding size classes and also on farmers participating in customized farmers’ training programme compared to non participants.

    The study was conducted in 10 out of 41 blocks in which AFC is implementing the Customized Farmers’ Training cum ICT based decision oriented agricultural tracking system under RKVY. The farmer sample comprised 1012 farmers in 46 Gram Panchayats of the blocks.

    The initial effect of drought was visible in the increase of fallow area from 10.3 percent of owned area in 2008 to 21 percent in 2009. This represents an increase of 10.7 percent over 2008. The highest percentage of increase was in Varanasi (29%), followed by Rae Bareilly (20.9%), Allahabad (19.9%) and Moradabad (17.2%).

    Rice yield is expected to decrease from 25.38 qt/ha in 2008 to 20.47 qt/ha in 2009. This represents a deficit of over 19 percent of the yield level of 2008. All the districts would be experiencing shortfall, except Saharanpur, where more than 15 percent increase in yield level is expected. Here, however, farmers had shifted from cultivation of high value basmati rice to coarser varieties. So the yields of the two years are not comparable in respect to this district. The worst productivity decrease of nearly 37 percent occurred in Varanasi, followed by Moradabad (21.2%), Etawa (20.2%) and Bijnor (19.4%).

    Oilseed production is also expected to reduce considerably. With regard to pulses, yield is expected to decline from 14 qt/ha in 2008 to 11 qt/ha in 2009. Decline of fodder production is also expected in the fodder producing blocks. Productivity of sugarcane is also anticipated by farmers in Bijnor, Saharanpur and Basti.

    The production decline occurred mainly due to wilting/stunted growth at early stages due to water stress, increase in weed growth and pest infestation (though the dry conditions were expected to slow down pest attacks).

    Access to credit and crop insurance facilities, the latter being an important risk cushioning mechanism, was very poor in most of the districts and even those farmers who were covered under crop insurance were not able to avail of compensation for crop loss.

    As an important adaptation measure, there is a need to empower farmers with knowledge of water management techniques, drought resistant crops and varieties, conservation of ground water, increased risk coverage through popularization of crop insurance schemes, enabling of investments through facilities extended under crop loan scheme, awareness of and access to loan waiver schemes etc. The customized farmers training programme under RKVY is an important vehicle for this and there is a need to customize the training packages further, keeping in view the above requirements, as drought will be a recurring feature due to the effects of climate change and global warming.

    An important finding is that farmers who participated in training under customized farmers’ training programme had better productivity levels than non CFT farmers and also had better access to crop loan and crop insurance. This demonstrates the importance of accessible agricultural extension and training as an empowering tool against climate variability induced risks.

    A study on drought of 2004 drought in eastern U.P has demonstrated the superior economic efficiency of a combination of crop insurance and ground water based micro irrigation compared to each measure individually as risk cushioning mechanisms. While concerted efforts are needed to convince farmers about crop insurance, support needs to be provided to farmers for micro irrigation through accessible and timely financing packages.

    While the Water Policy of Uttar Pradesh advocates drought proofing measures like recharge of ground water through appropriate water harvesting structures and regulated exploitation of ground water in rain-fed areas precious little is taking place on the ground. There is little convergence between activities in this direction by various arms of the government like the irrigation department, land resources department (IWDP and DPAP, now combined as IWMP), rural development department (NREGS), and forest department. It is hoped that the convergence guidelines recently issued for convergence of NREGS with other programmes like forestry, land resources development etc would be taken seriously at ground level.  Such convergence is essential for ensuring food security to millions and ensuring livelihood security to people dependent on agriculture.