Farm crisis may deepen as drought looms over 225 districts

With the southwest monsoon season about to end in less than three weeks’ time, the government’s drought warning system predicts there could be a drought in 225 districts across “17 agriculturally important states of India,” putting further strain on distressed agriculture sector.

According to the government’s National Agriculture and Drought Assessment System (NADAMS) the affected districts include large agricultural areas in the states of Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. The three states had announced farm loan waivers just months ago.

These states are already struggling to pay the promised waivers and will find it harder to cope with any more distress in the farm sector, experts said.

Drought conditions also loom over the chronically distress-prone areas of Vidharba, Marathwada, Bundelkhand and Telangana raising the prospect of another miserable year for farmers in these regions.

Farmers’ protests erupted this year in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and large parts of northern India despite record food grain production last year.

“The number of districts with drought trigger 1 at the end of August was 225. The total amount of rainfall is good but dry spells have gone up sharply,” SS Ray, director of the New Delhi-based National Crop Forecast Centre, under the ministry of agriculture which releases the monthly NADAMS report, told HT.

The NADAMS works like an early warning system for drought that alerts the states under which the affected districts lie, a scientist at NCFC explained.

Drought declaration is a three step process. Trigger 1 is the first stage but also the most crucial because it is assessed on the basis of rainfall deviations and dry spell. After this the states launch assessment based on the crop situation and hydrological parameters to declare a drought.

The report for August is expected to be released later this month. The report for July, released in August showed the possibility of drought in 104 districts.

The affected states, according to the data collected by the NCFC, include large parts of east and west UP, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana – which are high food production areas. The other affected districts lie in Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Telengana, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.

Though officials of the ministry of agriculture maintain overall food production may not see a large dip, crop sowing data released on Friday shows a marginal drop of around three per cent in areas under food grains.

Experts also contest the ministry’s claim. “The government can claim food security won’t be hit but farmers will be affected. With India entering into an agreement for pulses with Brazil, imports will take care of food security, but famers’ welfare will suffer,” said agriculture expert Devinder Sharma.

“In a state like Punjab, drought-like conditions do not cause decrease in production but the input costs go up and that is not a good sign,” Sukhpal Singh, senior economist at the Punjab Agriculture University (PAU) said.

Singh added that the states which have given out farm waivers are already under tremendous financial stress due to heavy costs involved.

Poor rainfall also affects overall yield despite normal sowing and that causes worry among farmers worried.

“Good sowing is no measure of yield. If you miss the sowing window, yield drops. In Maharashtra and MP farmers faced a dry spell immediately after they finished sowing,” farm activist Ramandeep Mann pointed out.

[http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/farm-crisis-may-deepens-drought-looms-over-225-districts-in-17-food-bowl-states/story-9YVrQuGo9OWgVC0zhwB2OL.html Sep 10, 2017]