By Saurabh Katkurwar
New Delhi, July 21 (IANS) Rajeev Dhawad, who has sown wheat, cotton, soybean in his 30-acre farm near Nagpur this kharif season, has not hit the panic button yet though the rains are missing in his area from the past two weeks. The soil in the farm still has retained moisture thanks to the organic farming — that he claims can help farmers to face the vagaries of weather.
With the water crisis and drought-like situation looming large over the country, judicious use of water and adopting the climate-resilient practices including organic farming can protect the rural sector from the harmful effects of climate change to a major extent, feel experts.
Erratic rains and drought have occurred earlier as well but their frequency has increased significantly in the recent past, which indicates climate change is happening, said Ravindra Gavali of the National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj (NIRDPR).
Thus, the country needs to look at the traditional agricultural practices, which has the resilience to overcome the climate variability, said Gavali, who heads the Centre for Climate Change and Disaster Management Disaster Mitigation at NIRDPR.
The NIRDPR is an autonomous organisation under the Rural Development Ministry.
“There is evidence that shows with rising temperature the instances of extreme weather events have gone up. So scientists have started believing that it is because of the climate change,” Gavali said.
Dhawad said he may not get as much yield as in the case of farming using chemical fertilisers and pesticides but the input cost was almost zero.
“Farmers in my area get up to 15 quintals of cotton per acre using Bt Cotton seeds while I get 6-10. However, they had to pay a substantial amount on inputs, which lead them to losses at times despite higher production. While my expenses are almost nothing as I use cow dung, leaves among other to make bio-fertilisers and pesticides,” he said.
Satpal Puniya, a farmer from Rajasthan’s Sri Ganganagar, said water consumption has gone down and soil health has been good since he took up organic farming.
Owing to the demand for more production, Indian farmers have forgot the traditional skills and practices that were evolved over the hundreds of years to overcome climate change effects, Gavali said.
The NIRDPR has formulated 40 mitigation and adaptation measures to tackle the rural sector problems that are influenced by climate change.
Soil health management, organic farming, mixed cropping, watershed management, development of drought-resistant varieties, and promotion of allied livelihood options such as poultry, fisheries is among the measures.
Over 250 districts in the country are reeling under severe water crisis, and there is a high possibility that the prevailing drought-like situation becomes more serious if the southwest monsoon ends on a deficient note.
The first month of the monsoon, June has ended with a rain deficit of 33 per cent this year.
Presenting the Union Budget this month, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the government planned to promote Zero Budget Natural Farming.
While it may take number of years to see tangible effects of the scheme, the government has a tough task to address the water crisis problem in short term.
What is the matter of most concern is the imprudent use of water in the agriculture sector, said S.K. Sarkar, Senior Director at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), a not-for-profit organisation.
Agriculture sector’s share in total water consumption is about 80 per cent as against 12 per cent by industries and 8 per cent for domestic purpose, he said.
“And only 32 per cent of the water used in agriculture is utilised effectively while 62 per cent goes waste. In the absence of micro-irrigation facilities, water is being used haphazardly,” he said.
“So when you (farmers) say there is no water, you are actually using excessive water. The problems related to water crisis arising out of erratic rainfall can be solved through judicious usage.”
India has irrigation potential on 70 million hectares land of total 198.4 million hectares of the Gross Cropped Area.
“However, only 9 million hectares of land could have been brought under irrigation so far, and the annual growth is just 0.6 million hectares,” Sarkar said.
He said effects of climate change were evident in the past few years and many scientific models have proven it.
If water availability is less, the negative impact of extreme weather conditions would be more, he said.
“So we need to ensure groundwater is recharged by reviving small water bodies. We need real-time demand-side management of water,” he said.
(Saurabh Katkurwar can be contacted at [email protected])