Drought-wary govt readies contingency plans for 500 districts

Apr 26 2014, 01:37 IST
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As of now, the agriculture ministry has asked states to plan for the diversification of crops. As of now, the agriculture ministry has asked states to plan for the diversification of crops.
SummaryThe government is taking no chances and is finalising a comprehensive contingency plan.

Given even the first forecast of the met predicts a 60% chance of El Niño and a 23% chance of a deficit monsoon, the government is taking no chances and is finalising a comprehensive contingency plan for 500-odd districts to deal with any exigency, official sources said on Friday.

As of now, the agriculture ministry has asked states to plan for the diversification of crops, ensure adequate input supplies as well as better adoption of drought-tolerant crop varieties and firm up strategies to augment fodder output, among other measures. In case of a bad drought, the government may plan to offer financial assistance including subsidy for irrigation and bonus for procurement of paddy, apart from supplying more inputs to states, as it did in 2009.

It was in 2009 India last faced a drought — incidentally, the worst in 37 years — and the villain was El Niño, which is predicted to recur this year.

In 2009, the country’s grain production hit 218 million tonnes, 6% lower than in 2008 but still around the levels achieved three years earlier. However, inflation in grains and fruits and vegetables hit 14.49% and 9.56%, respectively, in the 2009-10 fiscal, mainly owing to the drought.

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) on Thursday forecast below-normal monsoon showers for 2014, at 95% of the benchmark long-period average (LPA), citing the impact of an emergent El Niño weather system. The government is getting battle-ready for even a severe drought given that the IMD’s April forecasts have often been wrong. In 2009, the last El Niño, the met had initially forecast 96% rain against the actual 23% shortfall.

According to the sources, the Hyderabad-based Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (Crida), which is firming up the plan along with the Union agriculture ministry and state universities, has divided the country into five zones for the detailed planning covering 500 districts. The plans for each district will contain basic agricultural statistics, physical characteristics of the district (soil mapping) and details of the crops and methods of cultivation to be adopted in case of exigencies, including a monsoon failure.

The government will complete the plans for 100 more districts, which are relatively less vulnerable to a drought, during the next one year, an agriculture ministry official said.

“The focus of the contingency plan is to prepare farmers in various districts against delayed monsoon, excessive rains and uneven rainfall so that they can grow appropriate varieties and save

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