Tackling drought

While drought conditions, resulting from a failure of the monsoon in many parts of the country are still a reality, concern over them has receded, after customary noises have been made and plans to ease the distress have been announced. The area under paddy is down by about 20 per cent this year and there is fear that the late rains may damage the crop in areas where it has been sown. But the large quantity of buffer stocks of grains, import of commodities, steps to check blackmarketing and speculation are expected to help the country to tide over this year’s crisis. The drought is being factored in, and it is another way of saying that its presence is being forgotten. It happens every time, till the next drought gives rise to similar responses and is forgotten.

Beyond the immediate measures, attention must shift to long-term plans to make the country drought-proof. These should lead to a delinking of agriculture from the influence of the monsoons. Only over 40 per cent of the cropped area in the country is irrigated, though we have more water resources than most other countries. Irrigation needs to be extended to more areas, better techniques like drip irrigation should be employed and water harvesting and conservation projects should be popularised and implemented. These are necessary to control floods too. Farm sector investments have been inadequate and have never been utilised well. Irrigation projects have faced persistent obstacles. Laws on land acquisition also need to be changed to facilitate more projects.
China’s cultivated area is much less than India’s but the farm output is much higher.

India’s agricultural productivity is among the lowest in the world. Adoption of better agricultural practices, greater diversification of crops, making easy and affordable credit available for farmers, providing of information through modern technology, improvement of marketing facilities and weaning away of people dependent on farming to other economic fields should all be elements of a strategy to  change the face of farming. The pitiable three per cent growth of the agricultural sector can be boosted to much higher levels in a few years if the sector receives more than lip service. Only then will India emerge from the ranks of poor nations into a credible economic power and social and political stability can be ensured in large parts of the country.

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