They dont see a drought

Written by fe Bureaus | Updated: Aug 17 2009, 06:32am hrs
Across Indias chronic drought prone areas, many poor and marginal farmers seem to be more prepared for drought than our hesitant government. They are cheering up to a good harvest unmindful of the perilously deficit monsoon and a worried Prime Minister who has been spending more than an hour everyday to take stock of the situation. Many of them will take up a second crop as well.

Drought was almost genetic for Jitendra Barik, a resident of Dhaneswar village in Orissas chronically drought prone Bargarh district. In two years, he has not only made his life drought-proof but also has become prosperous. He earns Rs. 30,000 annually from his once abandoned one acre of farm land. In 2007 under the Western Orissa Rural Livelihood Programme, he dug a pond at the centre of his small farm using the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme money. After three to four showers, the farm pond had 3.8 lakh litres of water, enough for year round irrigation for him. Than came into play what the modern economists call the link up economy: he took up a winter crop of vegetables and he did fish rearing. He stopped migrating out. The pond had a capital investment of Rs. 15,000 (excluding the wages component) that gave him a return of Rs. 30,000 in the first year. Rainfall may fluctuate but he is no more affected by it.

In Madhya Pradeshs Siddhi district, it is the sixth consecutive drought spell. But in Kanchanpur village in Kharbar Panchayat, there is no overt concern about it. Using NREGA, the village has got three dug wells and three ponds. All those who migrated out before the NREGA was implemented in 2005 have come back. The villages 50 Ha of farm lands have been cultivated for the first time using the water from the six structures. They are taking up a second crop besides kitchen gardens in individual households. At an average each of the villages 200 adults have earned around Rs. 6,000 from farming alone. The village has enough water for drinking purpose and nobody has migrated out last year. The district has used the NREGA to dug more than 5000 wells, and one would be safely sure that the farms around such structures would be as green as that of Kanchanpur village.

No liquidity crisis: These villages have learnt what the countrys policy makers have not learnt from more than 130 years of drought management experiences. That is: it is not rainfall deficit that causes drought but the lack of capacity to capture rainwater. Drought seems to be striking irrespective of rainfall. Most of Indias drought prone areas are well endowed with rainfall. The chronically drought prone areas get around 750 mm of rainfall while the drought prone areas receive rainfall between 750-1125 mm annually. So the simple way out of droughts impacts is to store water. And what you need for this is bare minimum rainfall but extensive storage systems spread across villages.

Estimate shows that with even 100 mm of rainfall in a year i.e. around one-tenth of the countrys average rainfall, we can harvest one million litres of water from one hectare of land. Applying the same calculation, rain captured from 1-2 per cent of Indias land can provide Indias population of 1 billion as much as 100 litres of water per person per day (this is more than double of the recommended norm of 40 litres per day).

High return: India has 593,731 inhabited villages with total population of around 1135 million (as of October 14 2008). Indias total land area is over 300 million Ha. Let us assume that villages can harvest the runoff from 200 million Ha of land, excluding inaccessible forest areas, high mountains and other uninhabited terrains, that still gives every village on an average access to 340 ha or a rainfall endowment of 3.75 billion litres of water. So we should not even worry about irrigation as well. No village in India should suffer drought.

Currently Indias villages have the right capacity to do so. Under the NREGA alone around 19 lakh water harvesting/conservation, renovation of traditional water bodies and drought proofing works have been taken up during 2006-2009 (till March). These structures work two ways: they harvest water as well as recharge the groundwater, a major source for drinking and irrigation purpose. Based on the experiences of the above villages, each of these structures can irrigate one Ha of land. This is the cheapest way to irrigate and drought-proof the country. At an average the expenditure on each of these structures has been around Rs.50,000, out of which at the current rate 70% has gone back to people as wage. Thus the cost of irrigating one Ha of land under the NREGA is around Rs. 15, 000. The average cost of irrigating one Ha from major projects ranges from Rs. 1.5-2 lakh/ha.

So the current crisis is also the cheapest opportunity available to make India drought-proof.