Saturday, August 15, 2009

Drought and loss to agriculture strikes India in the face

Ever since June, there has been some amount of debate over whether the monsoon will be good this year. The met department was predicting a slight shortfall in the rains, and there was also news that another El Nino effect would be in place that would impact the amount of rains. As the months of June and July progressed, it became clear that the monsoon was late, and was not adequate. At the same time, the Government did not try to press the panic button, with the Minister of Agriculture claiming that there would be a marginal impact at best, and the Met Department predicting that things were not all that bad. The one time when the Department made a statement about the rains not being good, they were ticked off by the Government about creating a fear scenario, something that could lead to panic.
And now, we are in the situation where it is clear that the rains have failed all over the country; 31 of the 36 met zones in the country have reported lower rains that expected, in some cases, the shortfall has been much lower than the normal. Now, you are starting to hear stories from the Government that they will ensure that Indians do not go hungry, that there are adequate food stocks, and that they will take whatever measures are needed to save the remaining kharif crop, and to ensure that conditions (some amount of wetness in the soil) remains for the rabi winter crop. Towards this end, the Government mentioned something about diversion of electricity, more power for pumps, more installation of pumps.
However, it is pretty clear that this Government is a big picture Government, it is not for them to dirty their hands in details. So, there is no talk about what the Government did in the last couple of months when farmer's crops were wilting in the heat, no talk about how this greater focus on ensuring power for pumps will lower the water table even more (and there was a recent NASA report about how the water levels in India has been declining at an alarming rate, and that the natural methods of water recharging cannot overcome this decline), about how the Government will ensure that the farmers will be prevented from suffering at the hands of the money-lenders from whom they have taken loans and cannot repay.
The Prime Minister promises another Green Revolution, but do they have the necessary strength to take the detail level plan and execute? This is a Government that knows that dependence on the monsoon for cultivation is risky (as is obvious in the current situation), it knows that people can help get around this through such measures as creation of small check dams and water recharging (which provides water wherever it has been implemented) but is unwilling to take the required infrastructure steps to ensure more implementation of such schemes, and so on.
Now what will happen ? The Government will push for greater extraction of water (thus pushing down the water tables and increasing the salinity of water near the seas as the sea water replaces the natural water), will push for greater use of fertilizers (and the runoff from which will pollute water systems further). What is needed is a more comprehensive plan in which the Government makes a more details oriented plan, and includes measures to reduce dependence on the monsoon.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 1:52 PM