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.

their crops,” said B Venkateswarlu, who is anchoring the project at Crida.

States would be asked to ensure effective nutrient management (for example, foliar spray of KC1 or KNO3 to partially reduce stress during drought) as well as large-scale demonstrations of climate-resilient agronomic practices, including direct seeding options for short-duration paddy varieties, roughly in step with the strategies followed in 2009.

“No need to panic, but be on the alert. Every El Niño does not turn out to be a drought for India. Keep the import policy for edible oilseeds and oils open, and so also that of pulses, cotton and vegetables,” said Ashok Gulati, chair professor (agriculture) at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations. El Niño is a warming of sea-surface temperature levels in the central and east Pacific and cooling of the west that occurs every four to 12 years.

While tackling a drought is the primary responsibility of a state, the Centre provides all possible assistance, once sought. Upon the declaration of drought by a state, a central team visits the affected regions and, based on its recommendations, the Centre decides on extending financial assistance to the state.

At stake is farm sector growth apart from the livelihoods of millions of farmers, as roughly 60% of the net-sown area is rain-fed, accounting for 40% of food production. It impacts the lives of at least 40% of human and 60% of livestock population in the country, according to a farm ministry assessment. As much as 87.5% of coarse cereals as well as pulses, 77% of oilseeds, 65.7% of cotton and 48% of rice in the country are predominantly grown in the rain-fed areas.

"Although the IMD's forecasts in recent years have been more accurate than many global agencies, they are far from the exact mark. But such is the nature of monsoon predictions. So the government will ask the states to prepare for even the worst possible scenario," said a senior government official. "If the geographical spread of the rains is good, we have less reasons to worry," he added.

This leaves an enormous task for the government at the centre, as it will have address not just an industrial slowdown and other economic woes, but also a possible drought and resultant drop in farm production.

However, the government officials said the country is a better position to deal with a drought now than in 2009. Granaries were brimming with 48 million

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