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Need for Revitalizing Rainfed Agriculture

Sheetal Dhamecha
Sheetal Dhamecha
Rainfed map

Rainfed Agriculture Overview

India is ranked first in Rainfed Agriculture globally, in area (86 million ha) as well as value of produce. It accounts for around 60% of net sown area, where almost 60 % of farmers in India depend on it for their livelihoods. 55% of the gross cropped area is under rainfed agriculture.

A region is classified as rainfed, if assured irrigation is provided to less than 40% of the net sown area and the rains serve for the water needs. According to National Rainfed Area Authority (2012), out of 593 districts in India, 499 districts are rainfed.  It contributes significantly to food production - as high as 89 % of millets, 88 % of pulses, 73 % of cotton, 69 % of oil seeds, and 40 % of rice are produced by rainfed farmers in the country. Rainfed areas in the country support 64 % cattle, 74 % sheep and 78 % goat population, which are critical for food and nutritional security in India.

Rainfed agriculture however is characterized by varied agro-climatic conditions, undulating terrain and poor soil fertility. Crop loss due to dry spells and intense wet spells is a recurring phenomenon. For rainfed farmers, preparing for agriculture is an unpredictable affair, where timeliness and precision decide the returns and it follows a complete cycle based on moisture content of the soil. 

In India, the people at the bottom of the pyramid are concentrated in the rainfed areas, characterized by a high proportion of ST populations. The rainfed areas are spread across the upland districts of the central and mountainous regions of India, including Northeastern states, parts of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Jharkhand. Investing in these rainfed areas and working in the rainfed agriculture framework, will ensure that through the themes we reach our sustainable development goals.

rainfed agriculture

The Rainfed Problems aren’t few

No economic sector consumes as much freshwater as agriculture. The world is facing a water crisis and this accentuates the need for water management in rainfed agriculture; not only to secure the water required for food production, but also to build resilience for coping with future water related risks and uncertainties. From a global perspective, agricultural productivity is lower in rainfed areas than in irrigated farming systems. Rather, it is the extreme variability of rainfall, with high rainfall intensities, few rain events, and poor spatial and temporal distribution of rainfall. By contrast, in the arid zone, crop water needs often exceed total rainfall, causing absolute water scarcity.

Finding Solutions, the way forward

Water management systems have been in practiced in India since time immemorial. Preservation and management of water was taken up in a very serious way. Tillage, mulching, contouring, trenching, terracing, waterways, crop planning based on storage moisture capacity of the soils and land use capability classification as per moisture availability period are the key factors in increased the economic growth of the farming community living in dry and rainfed areas.

Moisture conservation practices helps in increase infiltration and reduce water losses and runoff. Contingent plans for aberrant weather conditions, moisture stress, drought, excess moisture help farmers to modify plans and save themself from the risk crop failure.

no tilling

Conservation tillage is a recent approach with the objective of reducing loss of soil with combination of 30% or greater crop residues on the surface. In no-tillage system crop is planted directly into the soil without primary or secondary tillage since harvest of the previous crop. No-till is sometimes practiced in combination with sub-soiling to facilitate seeding and early root growth, whereby the surface residue is left virtually undisturbed except for a small slot in the path of the subsoil shank. Tillage methods that provide control of soil erosion by wind include ridges and furrows and rough clods on the soil surface. (Bulletin of Environment, Pharmacology and Life Sciences)

India is an agricultural land indeed rainfed agricultural land. The right policies along with the right practices must be propagated in the country so that 'rainfed' isn't associated with plight but prosperity.

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