2024: Making agriculture more profitable despite drought, floods

Making Indian agriculture profitable under these climatic extremes needs both short- and long-term strategies.
Image used for representational purpose. (Photo | Express)
Image used for representational purpose. (Photo | Express)

India is an agrarian country, with a dependence of over 65% of the population in the sector that is gambling with the monsoons. Climate change has added an undesirable dimension to rainfall distribution. The spatio-temporal changes in rainfall behaviour in India have resulted in frequent weather extremes like droughts and floods, affecting the livelihoods of the greater population.

The National Rainfed Area Authority has identified 24 drought-vulnerable districts distributed across Karnataka (16), Rajasthan (4) and Andhra Pradesh (4), which are the worst hit by drought, while Kerala, Assam, West Bengal, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Bihar, Karnataka and Gujarat are affected by floods.

Agricultural droughts are associated with insufficient water to meet crop evapotranspiration, which hampers the growth of crops, while floods cause lodging, submerging or washing away of whole crops.

Inadequate knowledge of the occurrence of these events leads to a greater loss of agricultural products. Selection of the crops, variety, sowing window, growing period and Agromet advisory services (AAS) are the available tools to minimise long-range and short-range climate and weather aberration impacts in micro and macro domains. It is proved that the adoption of AAS improved the benefit-cost ratio to 1.5 to 2.70 against 0.5 to 0.75 in non-AAS farmers in different crops.

Making Indian agriculture profitable under these climatic extremes needs both short- and long-term strategies. The short-term strategies include:

a) Forewarnings and improving predictability of weather forecast: Advisories to design cropping plans should be made based on long-range weather forecasting to implement weather-sensitive profitable farming. Weather forecasting accuracy under tropical and sub-tropical climates is a major concern and needs improvement.

b) Adaptation of contingent crop planning: Implementation of a tailored cropping plan needs preparation for the supply of critical inputs, like seeds, fertilisers etc. Seed production should start at least two years in advance with a strategy that unused seeds can be utilised as grain. Contingency strategies including alternate crop varieties/alternate crops suitable in the event of a delay in the onset of monsoon rains or dry spell; management options tailored for initial/mid-season/end-of-season drought scenarios in rainfed/groundwater irrigated/tankfed areas/canal command areas must be adapted.

c) Soil health enhancement: Soil organic carbon is an indicator of soil health, which has declined considerably from around 0.75% during Independence to 0.35% in 2020. Improving soil health by encouraging organic manures viz., green manure, organic residues etc, can improve water holding capacity in the soil and support drought-proofing. The government can plan for the supply of green manure seeds timely with subsidised supply and incentivise soil health programmes.

d) Rainwater conservation: Agricultural sustainability under weather extremes largely depends on rainwater management viz., in-situ conservation during drought and safe disposal during floods. Rainwater conservation through watershed management and flood mitigation strategies needs greater emphasis.

e) Strengthening the custom hire services of farm machinery: Timely sowing, harvesting and processing of farm produce is a basic necessity for the success of crop production under climatic extremes, and needs timely availability of improved machinery.

f) Marketing and processing of produce, especially during surplus years: Even in drought-prone areas, there can be surplus produce, and at times the perishable produce should be marketed through cooperatives, and the government should arrange to buy such produce or send it to distant markets, or preserve, or value-addition can be promoted.

g) Crop insurance: Compulsory and affordable contributory weather-linked crop insurance for all rainfed crops should be adopted at the farmers’ scale.

h) Empowering farmers to understand the long-term and short-term climate aberration and adaptation and implementation of the recommended strategies should be taken up timely.

The long-term strategies include ecosystem development, trans-basin transfer of river water, flood-proofing and alternate cropping systems to the changed climate scenario in macro domains.

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