Agriculture · Water

World Water Day 2019: Positive Water Actions by Farmers, Governments

Today is World Water Day. The theme[1] for this year is ‘Leaving No One Behind’. In India it’s onset of summer. As usual, many parts of country have started facing water scarcity. After deficient monsoon, half of the country is in drought grip. The drought is further compounding the already stressed situation. Cauvery river has started drying[2]. The monsoon failure and drying of surface water sources have severely affect the ground water resource, which is depleting across the country.

Presently groundwater is lifeline[3] of India. It caters to meet 85 per cent of drinking water supply in rural parts. About 65 per cent of urban potable water supply is also based on ground water. Similarly 65 per cent of agricultural area is irrigated by water below the ground and it is meeting about 55 per cent of industrial demand.

The Water Aid report titled Beneath the Surface: State of the World’s Water 2019 released in this month, draws grim picture of ground water depletion in India. It says that about 24 per cent of all India’s water use is extracted ground water. With about 250 cubic km of extraction, India draws out more groundwater than any other in the world — more than that of China and the US combined. Because of this, the rate of groundwater depletion has increased by 23% between 2000 and 2010.

Continue reading “World Water Day 2019: Positive Water Actions by Farmers, Governments”

Agriculture · Dams · Irrigation · Maharashtra · Marathwada

This is the time to protect Pulse Farmers in Marathwada

I have harvested Moong (green gram) from my farm, now I’m harvesting Udad (black gram). Their price is crashing each day…I may not get even the Minimum Support Price (MSP)…But I’m not supposed to care about the price… its solely the farmer’s responsibility to reduce inflation and make India a superpower.”

…says Ashok Bhau, a dry land farmer dependent on rainfall and groundwater in the heart of Marathwada: Osmanabad.

Last year his Moong failed completely, there was no seed development and although his Tur (Pegion Pea/Arhar) fetched a very good price, it did not mean anything for the family as the productivity was dismally low following three droughts and dry wells[i]. Like many farmers in Marathwada, he burned his sugarcane on 4 acres after watering it for many months… finally there was no water to sustain it. We had written about soaring pulses last year.udad (1).jpg Continue reading “This is the time to protect Pulse Farmers in Marathwada”

Agriculture · Climate Change · Dams · Ministry of Environment and Forests

Farmers, Rivers and the Environment in Union Budget 2016-17

Above: Canals of Tillari Project, on of the AIBP Project supported in Union Budget 2016-17, unused and derelict Photo: Parineeta Dandekar

Massive expenditure on Large Dams will only help contractors

The Union Budget 2016-17 presented by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Feb 29, 2016 seems to be promising in its thrust and focus towards farmers and the farming sector of the country. For a sector which employs about 55% of the work force of the country, this priority is much needed and one which holds a promise of a number of multiplier effects. He stated, “We are grateful to our farmers for being the backbone of our food security. We need to move beyond food security and give our farmers a sense of “Income Security”.” This is particularly required when the farmers are in dire states as they are today, many of them facing four consecutive crop failures, Kharif 2014, Rabi 2015, Kharif 2015 and Rabi 2016.  In 2015, on average 52 farmers committed suicide every single day in India.[1]

And hence, focus on farming is indeed a positive step. As Maharashtra State Water Resources Minister for State Vijay Shivtare once told me, “We are not very bothered about the high costs of Lift Irrigation Schemes per se. If they work well, and result in prosperous farmers, it would mean more agricultural implements, more Tractors, more vehicles, better homes etc., increasing the government’s revenue at the end of the day.” (“If they work well” was the operative part here, which has seldom materialized in Maharashtra). A Prosperous Farmer and strong farming economy can help all sectors.

Mr. Jaitley opened his budget speech with an Agenda to “Transform India”, based on nine pillars. Foremost pillar is ‘Agriculture and farmers’ welfare, with a focus on doubling farmers’ income in five years, by 2022. The total allocation for Agriculture and Farmers Welfare is Rs 35, 984 Crores.

Finance Minister rightly diagnosed that “Irrigation is the critical input for increasing agricultural production and productivity.” Out of 141 million hectares of net cultivated area, only 46% is covered with irrigation and that there is a “need to address optimal utilization of water resources, create new irrigation infrastructure, conserve soil fertility, value addition and connectivity from farm to markets.”

For ensuring this, “Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana” will be implemented in mission mode through which 28.5 lakh hectares will be brought under irrigation”. A major part of this will be through “Fast tracking and Implementation of 89 irrigation projects under AIBP (Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Program) which have been languishing. These will help irrigate 80.6 Lakh hectares. These projects will need Rs 17,000 Crores next year and 86,500 Crores in next five years. 23 of these will be completed before 31st March 2017.”

So, in the coming 5 years, a whopping Rs 86,500 Crores of the taxes collected from all Indians and at least a part of the Krishi Kalyan Cess at 0.5% all taxable services will go into AIBP Projects, with over Rs 17,000 Crores being allocated in 2016-17 itself. This is highly problematic. AIBP was started by P. Chidambaram in 1996 and in two decades since then, it has not delivered anything susbstantial except huge bank balances for contractors, as also for the engineers, bureaucrats and politicians,hand in glove with the contractors. CAG reports have repeatedly highlighted this reality  in case of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and now possibly Madhya Pradesh. In fact, this was the very plank on which BJP came to power in Maharashtra. But Arun Jaitely seems to have no new ideas to offer here, except treading on the same path.

While it is clear that the government cannot abandon all incomplete projects, before it decides to spend more good money after already sunk costs on incomplete projects, it needs to halt more Major and Medium irrigation projects and undertake a credible, independent review of why the projects were incomplete for so long, what were the loop holes, what are the lessons learned from past mistakes, which projects are worth going ahead, in what form. And finally, which need  to be abandoned. Without doing such an exercise, the money allocated for incomplete projects is not going to help the farmers.

  1. Massive Support for AIBP Projects in Union Budget 2016 17 is unwarranted

Rs 86,500 Crores over 5 years is a massive amount. Will it be able to ensure promised Irrigation? Which are these AIBP Projects? Why do they need so much support from the Center? How have they performed till now? Where are they located? Is this expenditure wise?

Here is a snapshot of some of the 89 AIBP Projects, maximum of which, 13, come from Maharashtra. Maharashtra has had enough bad publicity following the Dam Scam but more importantly, it now has a Chief Minister, also from BJP, who openly stated in the State Assembly on July 21, 2015 that “We have built Large dams everywhere without thinking of feasibility or water availability” and that “Large Dams are not the road ahead”. Devendra Fadanvis wisely separated Large Dams from actual Irrigation and said: “We pushed large dams, not irrigation, this has to change”.[2] He has spearheaded a considerably successful program that focuses on small scale interventions for harvesting and recharging water known as Jal Yukta Shivar Yojana.

With this context, it is ironic and deeply troubling that maximum Large Irrigation Projects under AIBP come from Maharashtra. The name “Accelerated Irrigation Benefit” is also ironic as many of these projects have been going on for over 2-3 decades, have seen huge costs escalations, corruption charges, question marks about their viability, desirability, optimality, quality and final effectiveness.

Out of 149 AIBP Projects across the country, 89 projects are active, out of which 46 projects have been prioritized in the Union Budget. 23 Priority I Projects are to be completed by 2016-17 and additional 23 Priority II Projects are to be completed by 2019-20. Of these 46 Projects, maximum 13 projects come from Maharashtra.

A brief snapshot of some AIBP Projects in Maharashtra:

No. Project District Issue
1.                      Tillari Interstate Project Sindhudurg Based in hilly tracts of Western Ghats, highly unviable project, very low irrigation efficiency, terrain not suitable for large dams, Protests, Land Acquisition problems, 
2.                      Bembla Major Project[3] Yavatmal Huge Corruption Charges, Work ongoing since last 24 years. High cost escalations. Cracked canal Lining due to poor quality work. Enquiry ordered against Contractor for substandard work.
3.                      Tarali Major Irrigation Project Satara Whistle Blower of Maharashtra Dam Scam, then-Serving Chief Engineer Mr. Vijay Pandhare inspected construction of Tarali Project and stated that compressive strength of all 66 cores of the dam is as low as 42% when a difference in core strength by 1-2% is considered serious. This indicates corruption, use of less cement and institutionalised ill-intent. He officially wrote letter against these happenings. No action taken.
4.                      Dhom Balkawadi Satara Contract of Canal works given to a close relative of Ajit Pawar, Former Deputy CM and Minister of Water Resources. Several tendering lacuna exposed by officials.
5.                      Arjuna Medium Project Ratnagiri Massive cost and time escalations, unviable project in hilly terrain, corruption charges, rehabilitation issues not settled.

In addition to these, cost escalations of Lower Wardha, Lower Panzara, Nandur Madhyameshwar II (which will need 3 dams in the upstream) are also well known. (Link to  all projects in References below)

Across the country, but more sharply so in Maharashtra, Large Irrigation Projects have not automatically meant increased irrigated area, which is what the farmer needs. SANDRP has shown with official data that even after spending over Rs 600,000 crores on Major and Medium Dam and Canal Network between 1993-2010-11, net national canal irrigated area has been decreasing and not increasing.[4] There are several reasons for this.

1.jpg

Above: Canal irrigated area declining in the country Source: SANDRP

2

 Above: Groundwater dominates Irrigation in India, not dams and canals Source: IWMI

If Large Dam approach delivered all that it promised, then Maharashtra, with the largest number of large dams in the country would have had the highest irrigated area.  The actual picture is the opposite. Maharashtra has the lowest irrigated area in the country at about 18%. This is not a coincidence. As the dam scam highlighted, more large projects with complicated, ever-changing plans, far away offices and opaque funding mechanisms meant that local people had no clue about what was happening, leaving doors open for the unholy nexus of Babus, Contractors and Engineers to eat away public funds, without ensuring irrigation. Recent example is when the Maharashtra Government told the Hon High Court that they have resolved all of the financial backlog in areas like Marathwada and Vidarbha,  but the PHYSICAL backlog remains nearly the same. So is money for large irrigation projects an answer in this scenario?

While three major projects from Vidarbha (Bawanthadi, Bembla and Lower Wardha) included in AIBP will receive huge support from the Center, the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC) faces some of the most serious charges of corruption, cost and time escalations, as highlighted by a series of government appointed committees and even CAG. Jan Manch, an NGO from  Vidarbha which was instrumental in exposing the scam clearly stated that problems of projects here run deeper. Money is not an easy fix.

So why are the same projects being pushed in the name of farmers when it is demonstrated in Maharashtra that farmers are NOT benefiting from these projects? Cynics would point this out as another Jumlaa! Again, in the same state, the power of small scale water harvesting structures and people’s participation have shown how quickly things can change. Maharashtra still needs to complete Anti-Corruption Bureau Inquiry against several Large Dams, it needs to work on an Integrated State Water Plan and, as per orders of the Hon High Court, it can undertake new Projects only as per the provisions of this plan, it needs to take transparent and credible action regarding its own enquiry reports, which includes Special Investigation Team Report, CAG Report on Irrigation Projects dated 2013, etc. Unless all these steps are taken, and when small scale interventions are demonstrating their impacts, what is the logic behind putting huge public resources on the same approach?

Projects in other states like Sardar Sarovar, Narmada Sagar, Omkareshwar and Maheshwar Projects in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have not resettled the oustees and has used repressive mechanism to still fill the dams. It has been rapped by the Courts. Local communities in Manipur have been opposing dams there and have gone to the National Green Tribunal against Thaubal Dam.

In this context, maximum allocation of funds for Large Irrigation Projects in the Union Budget is clearly, neither convincing nor beneficial to farmers.

Other Schemes included under PMKSY with budgeted expenses for 2016-17 are

  • Har Khet ko Pani: Rs 500 Crores
  • Per Drop more crop: Rs 2340 Crores
  • Integrated Watershed Management: Rs 1500 Crores
  1. Some Positive water related steps in the Budget:
  • A major program for sustainable management of GW with allocation of Rs 6000 Crores and proposed for multilateral finding: Although the amount budgeted is hardly comparable to AIBP Projects, when contribution of groundwater in irrigation is much larger than surface water! We do not really need World Bank funding for this, we should be able to do this on our own.
  • A dedicated Long -term Irrigation Fund will be created in NABARD with initial corpus of Rs 20,000 Cores. Unfortunately, NABARD has no specific social and environmental policies and has been funding projects without attention to the key governance issues.
  • 5 lakh farm ponds and dug wells in rain fed areas and 10 lakh compost pits through MNEREGA.
  • Allocation for MNREGA is Rs 38500 crores, in reality this is much less than the actual demand and also less than what was actually spent last year. Last year, the actual spending on the programme was Rs 41,169 crore. The additional spending of Rs 6,470 crore is the pending liability and if adjusted the actual allocation in 2016-17 drops to Rs 32,030 crore—less than what was allocated in 2015-16. MNREGA allocation should have been higher.
  • Organic farming to be promoted: Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana 5 lakh acres under organic farming in 3 years with allocation of around Rs 412 crores. While more areas under organic farming is welcome, the target is more un-ambitious and allocation most meager. As Jayapal Reddy (Secy, confederation of kisan organisations) says we need aid for increasing carbon content in soil all across India.
  • Incentives for enhancement of Pulse production. Rs 500 Crores under National Food Security Mission to pulses. Districts covered increased to 622. This is a specifically encouraging step taken as Pulse Farming is mostly rainfed, require low fertilizer inputs, contributes to protein security, is climate friendly. We spent about Rs 15,000 Crores this year to import pulses and a focused plan for procurement and assured MSP will be of a great help. But the FM could have been much more ambitious here. A similar scheme was needed for oilseeds too.
  • Access to markets is critical for farmer incomes. Unified Agri Marketing Scheme has been announced where a common e-platform will be developed for 585 regulated wholesale markets. Amendments in APMC Acts are a prerequisite for joining. On the 14th April Birthday of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, Unified Platform dedicated to Nation.
  • Revised norms of assistance under National Disaster Response Fund in April 2015.
  • Special focus on adequate and timely flow of credit to farmers. Against target of 8.5 Lakh Crores in 2015 16, the target of agri credit 2016-17 will be Rs 9 lakh Crores.
  • Prime Minister Fasal Bima Yojana providing greater cover against natural calamities at a low premium. Provision of Rs 5500 Crores in Budget 2016-17. However, the amount originally estimated to cover all farmers was Rs 17,600 crore. Why this lower allocation?
  1. Where are the Rivers?

In NDA’s first budget in 2014-15, when Ganga Arati and rhetoric on Ganga cleaning were at their peak, the Finance Minister had said during his budget speech: “ Rivers form the lifeline of our country. They provide water not only for producing food for the multitudes but also drinking water.” [5]

This year however, there is no mention of Rivers, not even Ganga. However, Namami Gange Plan/ National Ganga Plan has been allocated Rs 2250 Crores in the year 2016-17. The plan itself remains unclear. A plan based on Sewage Treatment Plants alone does not hold promise for Ganga with Rs 2000 Crores budgetary support, or Rs 20,000 Crores, like the money we have spent in the past years, corresponding to declining water quality of the river.

Inland Waterways Plan: The much-talked about Plan pushed by Minister for Road Transport and Highways and Shipping Mr. Nitin Gadkari would be getting around 350 Crores in 2016-17 as the combined budget for Sagaramala (Ports project) and Inland Waterways is pitched at 800 Crores and Sagarmala is budgeted at 450 Crores. Inland Waterways Program is being pushed without a thought being given to rivers in which they will operate. It is raising some very crucial questions, elaborated here: Digging Our Rivers’ Graves?[6]

Interlinking of Rivers Plan: The Plan has not been mentioned in the budget and the scheme does not feature in the further discussions. However, the Center is pursuing the project, disregarding ecological cost, social costs, financial costs and interstate conflicts.

It looks like Budget 2016-17 has no special announcements for rivers. However, plans like 100 Urban Rejuvenation Mission (Amrut and 100 Smart Cities) have been allocated a massive Rs 7296 Crores this FY. Projects like Smart Cities, Highways Project, Inland Waterways all have a strong link and impact on life support systems like rivers and these needed to be seriously addressed. India has no policy for Urban Rivers, and this has meant that rivers are common grounds for encroachment, pollution and extraction, leading to their destruction, like the Ganga, among others.

  1. Environment in Union Budget 2016-17

While the Environment Minister was one of the first Ministers to official hail Union Budget as “Visionary”, it is a bit sad to see that Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change (MoEF and CC) does not feature in the list of Important Ministries annexed to Finance Minister’s Speech, nor does a single Scheme from MoEF and CC feature in the list of Important schemes.

MoEF and CC gets a slightly higher budget than the massively slashed budget for the past two years. However, as Down to Earth has pointed out, there is a hitch here: “The Budget document shows that allocations to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) have continued to rise, from Rs 1,681.60 crore in last year’s budget to Rs 2,250.34 crore in 2016-17. But most of this Rs 570-crore increase has come in the form of planned revenue expenditure (salary and other operational expenses), which has risen by Rs 540 crore to Rs 1,944.75 crore this year. This leaves an increase of only Rs 30 crore divided between planned capital expenditure estimates (expenditure on schemes and programmes) and non-planned estimates. In fact, planned capital expenditure saw a dip in comparison to actual expenditure undertaken during fiscal year 2014-15.”[7]

Some Climate Change initiates like National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC), have seen an increased allocation. Of the Rs 180 Crores for Climate Change initiatives, Climate Change Action Programme (CCAP) has been allotted Rs 30 crore, the National Mission on Himalayan Studies Rs 50 crore and the National Adaptation Fund Rs 100 crore. According to Down to Earth, “While this is more than the Rs 160 crore allocated last year, there is no provision to cover the revised estimates of total expenditure of Rs 136.79 crore for the CCAP and Rs 115 crore for the National Adaptation Fund.”

There has been an upward spike in the National Clean Energy Fund, constituted mainly by Coal  Peat & lignite Cess, which has seen increase from Rs 50 to 100 Rs/tonne in 2014-15, further to 200 Rs/tonne is 2015-16 to 400 Rs/tonne in 2016-17. It is reported that it is this fund which will be support Inland Waterways Project, which is likely to destroy our remaining rivers. It will be hugely ironical if Clean Energy Fund levied on coal because of its environmental impact is used for Inland transport of Flyash and Coal from Rivers, as envisioned in the Inland Waterways Plan!

Budget of Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has also been increased considerably from Actual 2014-15: Rs 515 Crores, Revised Estimates 2015-16: Rs 262 Crores and Budgeted Expenditure of 2016-17 at 5036 Crores.

~

All in all, the massive thrust and support for large dam and canal network which has not delivered in past remains one of the most problematic parts of the Budget. The focus of farmers, encouragement to pulse farmers, increased decentralized procurement, increased Clean Environment Cess, increased allocations (marginal) to MoEF and CC and CC initiatives are welcome steps. Finally, a budget is as good as its implementation. A look at achievements of the last year indicates that that several schemes are still listed as under progress. While the aim of increasing farmers’ incomes by double in 2022 sounds very strong and positive, it does remind one of the BJP’s election promised of ensuring 50% profit over costs to farmers, unmet till date and now abandoned. Agricultural growth rate has not achieved more than 4% in any five year plans, and this target will need about 15% Compound Annnual Growth rate in farmers’ income, that looks nearly impossible.

It is also sobering to note, as Devinder Sharma says, that in 17 states of the country, farmers average monthly income is 1666 Rs. Doubling it in five years would mean 3332 Rs a month, nearly the same as five years back, if adjusted against inflation!

  • Parineeta Dandekar, Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP

 END NOTES:

State-wise details on AIBP Projects here: http://mowr.gov.in/writereaddata/1-1-1_Completing%20priority%20projects.pdf

[1] http://thewire.in/2016/03/01/agriculture-sector-needs-more-than-just-income-security-for-farmers-23273/

[2] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2015/07/26/we-pushed-large-dams-not-irrigation-cm-fadnavis-assembly-speech/

[3] http://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/proposed-in-1992-bembla-irrigation-project-still-incomplete-112101802012_1.html

[4] https://sandrp.in/irrigation/Failure_of_Big_Irrigation_Projects_and_Rainfed_Agriculture_0510.pdf

[5] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/07/10/rivers-and-water-in-union-budget-2014-15/

[6] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2016/02/19/digging-our-rivers-graves/

[7] http://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/budget-2016-17-loose-change-for-climate-change-52973

Agriculture · Dams · Groundwater · Interlinking of RIvers · Krishna River · Maharashtra

Maharashtra’s Water Sector in 2015: Did anything change with the government?

Above: A huge protest march against water release to Marathwada Photo: Zee 24 Taas

In 2015, with the change in the ruling party after 15 long years, Maharashtra had a massive opportunity to break free from the crisis-ridden and scam-ridden image of its water sector. Water and dams have been central behind the embarrassing loss of Congress-NCP government in the 2014 Loksabha elections. But could the ruling BJP government actually deliver such a “Paradigm Shift” as it likes to call it? Is there light at the end of the tunnel for the state that is facing not only management scams, but repeated droughts and extreme weather events?

We try to review happenings around water, dams and rivers in Maharashtra for the past year 2015 and to look for a possible direction where the sector is heading, trying to fathom what it holds for the rivers and the people of the state. Continue reading “Maharashtra’s Water Sector in 2015: Did anything change with the government?”

Agriculture · Climate Change · Dams · Drought · Environment · Ganga · Irrigation · Monsoon · Narmada · Rivers · South Asia

Dams, Rivers & People News Bulletin Nov 02, 2015 (Festival Fishing on occasion of Kati Bihu in Assam)

People of a village in Morigaon district of Assam fish in groups to celebrate ‘Kati Bihu’ on Sunday. The festival is closely related to agriculture, celebrated on the first day of the Kati month of the Assamese calendar. It is that time of the year when paddy grows in the fields and cultivators work hard for a good harvest.— Photo: Ritu Raj Konwar, The Hindu

Continue reading “Dams, Rivers & People News Bulletin Nov 02, 2015 (Festival Fishing on occasion of Kati Bihu in Assam)”

Agriculture · China · Climate Change · Dams · Drought · DRP News Bulletin · Environment · Ganga · Irrigation · Monsoon · Nepal · Pakistan · Rivers · Sand Mining

Dams, Rivers & People News Bulletin Oct 26, 2015 (Saving Tigers is Saving Rivers, Story of once dry Tamirabarani River )

Tamirabarani teaches: Saving tiger is saving river  After Kalakkad-Mundanthurai was declared tiger reserve in 1992, Tamirabarani river has regained its perennial status. Though shorter than Cauvery and Vaigai, Tamirabarani has always held a special place in the state. It started turning dry for four months every year. People of Tirunelveli and Tuticorin thought their river too was going the way of other state rivers. But a move to save the tiger inadvertently became a save the-river policy. The Union ministry of environment and forests declared the Kalakkad – Mundanthurai area as a tiger reserve in 1992. In three years, there was a noticeable change. A study on water inflow into the Karayar river, a tributary, inside the reserve was taken up. Records show that from 1946 till 1990, the river received only 13,000 cubic feet of water annually. After the area was declared as a tiger reserve, the inflow increased to 23,000 cubic feet.

Continue reading “Dams, Rivers & People News Bulletin Oct 26, 2015 (Saving Tigers is Saving Rivers, Story of once dry Tamirabarani River )”

Agriculture · Dams · Irrigation · Madhya Pradesh · Maharashtra · Marathwada

Pulse Farmers: Custodians of Fertility, Water and Climate-friendly Agriculture

Above: A rainfed Tur (Arhar/Pigeon Pea) field in Amravati in Vidarbha region of Maharashtra Photo: Parineeta Dandekar, October 2015

Pulse prices are raging in Indian markets, leading to outrage from urban customers. Newspapers are full of coverage, cartoons and puns on pulse prices. The fate of rural population facing successive droughts which has to buy pulses is better left to imagination. If some benefits of this price hike were to reach actual pulse farmers, it would have been some consolation. But for now, as Pulse farmer Ashok Pawar from Osmanabad tells me, the Tur (Arhar/Pigeon Pea) that is in the market is last year’s. It was sold to the middle men (Adatya in Marathi) and market committee at a low rate as the production was dismal due to late rains and drought followed by unseasonal rainfall. This happened in 2013 too. Tur from 2014 is now being sold at a record price, the farmer watches this helplessly. Continue reading “Pulse Farmers: Custodians of Fertility, Water and Climate-friendly Agriculture”

Agriculture · Irrigation

Climate Change and Agriculture: Where is the National Mission on Sustainable Agriculture?

Adaptive Agriculture: A mix of Millets, Corn, Legumes and Vegetables grown by tribals in the same plot. Photo: Aparna Pallavi, Down to Earth

When the farmers were losing their crop due to less or no rain, the government was still speculating about 2014 being a drought year. Now that the damage is done, we have seen some acknowledgement from authorities of the actual situation. One wonders then why is it that the government has to wait for calamity to strike when it already knows the dangers that lie ahead. In a burst of enthusiasm, it set up the eight missions under the National Action Plan for Climate Change (NAPCC) in 2008, one of which is the National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture. But the ground situation seems to be the same with or without it.

Destruction ofcrops due to untimely hailstorms in Marathwada Photo: Sakaaltimes
Destruction ofcrops due to untimely hailstorms in Marathwada Photo: Sakaaltimes

The Indian network for climate change assessment (INCCA) report suggests that there is a probability of 10-40% loss in crop production in India by 2080-2100 unless we take mitigation measures and adapt to the global warming[i]. The 5th assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), estimates that 60% more food will be needed by 2050 given the current trends in food consumption[ii]. It is also estimated that for tropical places especially like India and China, the length of the growing season and suitability for crops will decrease as it is determined by moisture availability and extreme heat, where both are being affected as a result of climate change. This means that there will be considerable losses in agricultural productivity in India, leading to negative impacts on food security in the country. In such a situation, it is important for the government to work towards safeguarding the livelihoods of its farmers, who contribute highly to the GDP (13.7%) and form a big part of the overall labour force in the country. In its National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture, the government stated that there will be an estimated reduction in agricultural yield by up to 4.5-9% in the medium term (2010-2039), whereas a reduction of about >25% in the long term (2040 and beyond) if no measures are taken[iii].

Keeping in line with this, the IPCC report estimates that almost half of the wheat-growing area of the Indo-Gangetic Plains could experience significant amounts of stress due to heat by 2050s, along with the expansion of temperate wheat environments northwards as climate changes. ii The INCCA report said that projections indicated the possibility of loss of 4-5 million tonnes in wheat production with every rise of 1 degree Celsius temperature. i In an instance concerning wheat production in the Indo-Gangetic plains in 2004, the report sites that temperatures were higher by 3-6 degree Celsius, which is almost 1 degree C per day over the whole crop season. As a result, wheat crop matured earlier by 10-20 days and wheat production dropped by more than 4 million tonnes in the countryi.

SA1

Similar is the case with rice. In another report on Punjab, it was seen that with all other climatic variables remaining constant, temperature increases of 1⁰C, 2⁰C, 3⁰C would reduce the grain yield of rice by 5.4, 7.4 and 25.1 % respectively[iv]. The report by INCCA, in its projections for 2030, said that the yields of irrigated rice will be affected by about 10% in the coastal areas. Rain-fed rice yields are projected to increase upto 15% in many districts in the east coast, whereas they may fall by about 20% in the West Coasti. In India, rice is a widely grown crop. Its production determines livelihoods of majority of the farmers for one season. It is also the most water intensive crop. As temperatures rise, there is also increased stress on water required through the growing season. In India, 70% of our arable land is prone to drought, 12% to floods and 8% to cyclones[v]. In such cases, farmers who live with uncertainty have less money for food, farm investments and a reduced capacity and willingness to try out new technologies and practices.

FAO

To add to the rise in temperatures, in its Summary for Policymakers, the IPCC clearly stated that it is very likely that hot extremes, heat waves and heavy precipitation events will continue to become more frequent. Thus the uncertainty is bound to increase. These climate extreme events are being witnessed in India even this year. There has been high rainfall deficit at many places through most of the monsoon season, thus leading to crop losses. There is extreme rain in the hills, which lead to the floods in Uttarakhand, Bihar, Orissa and now in Jammu and Kashmir. But the government still does not acknowledge the role of climate change in these anomalies.

Rice Farming in Punjab Photo: The Tribune
Rice Farming in Punjab Photo: The Tribune

Adapting farmers: Even though the climate is changing, the farming practices have not changed at most places. But there has been evidence that at some places farmers have adopted different techniques in the face of climate change even if they do not address it directly, but only make decisions based on impacts. The small and marginal farmers, it has been noticed, do not have the capacity to go for fresh sowing in case the crop goes bad when rains fail.

The Baiga tribe of Mandia and Dindori districts in particular have reverted back to this technique of planting multiple crops, which are resilient to environmental stress and give assured yield. The Madia tribe in Maharashtra have reverted to a similar practice of penda. This is happening because the people have suffered huge losses due to unsuccessful paddy crop because of erratic rain. These practices are being implemented with the help of an NGO, Nirman. The problem facing the people today is that the land used for this is forest land and not agricultural land, thus causing land insecurity. However, these people are making the effort to save their livelihoods with no help from the government.

A Baiga home with harvested corn Photo: Aparna Pallavi, Down to Earth
A Baiga home with harvested corn Photo: Aparna Pallavi, Down to Earth

In the case of Bundelkhand region in Central India, over 70% of the population relies on rainfall for agriculture[vi]. The farmers here have started replacing wheat with barley as it is a less water intensive crop and this is a semi-arid region. It is also preferred because the input cost of barley is almost 50% less than wheat and its market price is 20% more. In this region, there have been efforts from organizations such as Development Alternatives which has formed farmers’ clubs to help the community adopt climate resilient techniques for agriculture, like drip and sprinkler irrigation, adoption of drought resistant seed varieties and integrated pest management.

Intergrating agroforestry with Wheat in Bundelkhand Photo: ANI News
Intergrating agroforestry with Wheat in Bundelkhand Photo: ANI News

In another report of a similar instance, basmati farmers in Karnal district are reverting back to an old practice of growing maize, which is a less water intensive crop[vii]. This is being undertaken even in large landholdings, as there is less water availability, with groundwater[viii] levels showing a decline in recent years. According to the National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture document, irrigation requirements in arid and semi-arid regions are estimated to increase by 10% for every 1⁰C rise in temperature[ix]. Therefore, it is very important for farmers to adopt techniques which help in its conservation.

The Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research (CGIAR) research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), in collaboration with IFFCO India, has started the pilot for implementing climate smart agricultural technologies in three villages in Bihar. In an attempt to alter the cropping pattern, they re-introduced the sowing of mungbean, which is a short duration crop of the summer season. It is planted during the fallow season and increases soil fertility. For increasing yield, the ‘Pusa Visal’ variety of mungbean is used, which is a better variety compared to the previously used one[x]. The yield from the initial trials ranged from about 0.80-1.70 t/ha as against 0.30-0.80 t/ha under farmers’ practice. The yield for the pusa visal variety was also significantly higher than that of the farmers’ variety. Seeing such results, other farmers have also expressed the desire to follow suit.

The CCAFS is also taking initiative in Haryana, where about 26 villages are targeted. Various climate smart techniques like the laser-levelling technique are being implemented here. This technique, it is claimed, helps conserve about 25-30% of the water used otherwise in rice-crop plantation[xi]. Even the way of planting rice is different in that it is directly sown in the field where it then sprouts. This is known as “direct-seeded rice”. Apart from this, there is also the practice of using crop-residue to nourish fields, which saves the cost of extra fertilizer. To optimize the use of fertilizer, farmers are being taught to use a tool called “nutrient-expert”, which judges the amount of fertilizer application required in a field. These techniques help reduce uncertainty in the crop output. The earlier maize growing practice mentioned in the case of Karnal, is also one of the climate smart techniques.

SA2

Agriculture also contributes to the emission of greenhouse gases. In fact, in 2004, agriculture directly contributed to 14% of the global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions according to the IPCC[xii]. There has been an increase in CO2 emissions by about 100 ppm since pre-industrial times. Emissions of CO2 are often accompanied by ozone (O3) precursors that have driven a rise in troposphere O3 that harms crop yields. Elevated O3 since pre industrial times has very likely suppressed global production of major crops compared to what they would have been without O3 increases, with estimated losses of roughly 10% for wheat and soybean and 3-5% for maize and rice. Thus it is necessary that the government builds its capacity to better understand and measure the impact this has on agriculture and take the required steps to control it.

National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA): The focus of this mission under National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) is supposed to be to mainly improve the productivity of rain-fed agriculture. One might ask then, why it did not promote techniques like the System of Rice Intensification (SRI)[xiii] which requires much less water than conventionally grown rice. The mission recognizes that in the event of climate change, the vulnerability of India is more pronounced because it is dependent on agriculture, places excessive pressure on natural resources and has poor coping mechanisms.

Boost of SRI Photo: India Water Portal
Boost of SRI Photo: India Water Portal

It estimates that most of the crops are likely to witness a decline after 2020 which is when the temperature threshold of many crops might get breached. Studies suggest a significant decrease in cereal production by the end of this century. The situation will be most critical in areas which are rain-fed and have complex cropping systems. These constitute about 60% of the net cultivated area. But acknowledging it is one thing and doing something about it is quite another. The climate smart techniques are showing results at some places, but are still not being actively adopted by the government. In a recent press release, the ministry of agriculture announced that the sowing of kharif crop has crossed the 986.59 lakh ha mark, but this is still much less than the 1020.78 lakh ha which was sown last year around the same time[xiv]. Despite this, the government has expressed hope for a positive response in crop output next season, envisaging a growth of four percent[xv], while not acknowledging the impact of huge rainfall deficit in June July this year.

Drought in Marathwada, Maharashtra Photo: India Today
Drought in Marathwada, Maharashtra Photo: India Today

The mission acknowledges that since most of the agricultural production takes place in rural areas and engages people from the marginalized sections of the society, their coping capacity during climatic extremities are limited. But what has the government done since the inception of this plan? It has been almost 6 years since NAPCC was launched and the farmers still suffer the same fate without any compensation from the government. Even today, they are at the mercy of the weather. It will not work anymore to ignore the fact that this is now being aggravated by climate change. There is a need for more climate smart agricultural techniques in the country. The least the government can do is to acknowledge that the unpredictable weather patterns, especially the irregular monsoon is in fact a result of climate change. It will do good to also recognize that out of the 300 million undernourished in South Asia, about 250 million are in India[xvi] and any threat to agriculture is an added threat to their existence.

Padmakshi Badoni, SANDRP, padmakshi.b@gmail.com

END NOTES:

[i] http://www.moef.nic.in/downloads/public-information/fin-rpt-incca.pdf

[ii] http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/far/wg_II/ipcc_far_wg_II_full_report.pdf

[iii] http://www.agricoop.nic.in/Climatechange/ccr/National%20Mission%20For%20Sustainable%20Agriculture-DRAFT-Sept-2010.pdf

[iv] http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/can-our-agriculture-tackle-climate-change/article5883523.ece

[v] http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/can-our-agriculture-tackle-climate-change/article5883523.ece

[vi] http://zeenews.india.com/news/eco-news/organic-farming-helps-farmers-increase-their-resilience-to-climate-change_865934.html.

[vii] http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/karnal-farmers-get-climatesmart/article6377570.ece

[viii] For more information on groundwater situation in the country, visit SANDRP’s blog https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/08/11/groundwater-falling-levels-and-contamination-threaten-indias-water-lifeline-urgent-need-for-community-driven-bottoms-up-management/

[ix] http://www.agricoop.nic.in/Climatechange/ccr/National%20Mission%20For%20Sustainable%20Agriculture-DRAFT-Sept-2010.pdf

[x] http://ccafs.cgiar.org/blog/changing-farming-practices-south-asia-food-secure-future#.VA1RssKSxoE

[xi] http://www.voanews.com/content/india-climate-smart-villages-agriculture-technology-farming/2439713.html

[xii] http://www.oecd.org/tad/sustainable-agriculture/agricultureandclimatechangeimpactsmitigationandadaptation.htm

[xiii] To read more about SRI, see https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/07/19/huge-potential-of-system-of-rice-intensification-sri-needs-more-attention/

[xiv] http://pib.nic.in/newsite/AdvSearch.aspx (5th September 2014)

[xv] http://pib.nic.in/newsite/erelease.aspx (8th September 2014)

[xvi] http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/can-our-agriculture-tackle-climate-change/article5883523.ece