Ashok Kumar Shukla is a worried man these days. A farmer of Thithoura village in Uttar Pradesh’s Fatehpur district, Shukla’s crops are thirsting for water, as the spectre of drought looms large in the region.
Shukla’s fear is not irrational, as the district is one among the 18 worst affected ones in the country. This is the second consecutive drought season in Fatehpur. To make matters worse, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has forecast the early retreat of monsoon, which has dashed the hopes of farmers expecting late showers.
“Like last year, drought has again struck us, putting our livelihood at risk,” Shukla says.
Fatehpur has witnessed 84 per cent monsoon shortfall this year. There are 17 other districts in India which share a similar fate. Like Fatehpur, they have also received scanty rainfall, the precipitation ranging between -60 per cent and -90 per cent from June 1 to August 28.
According to an assessment made by the IMD, 266 districts out of the total 640 in the country currently fall in the rain-deficient category, which is over 40 per cent. These districts have witnessed a seasonal rainfall deficit between -20 per cent and -90 per cent.
The anguish in Shukla’s voice cannot be missed. “I have sowed paddy on one acre and sesame seeds on the rest of my two acres. We are just hoping against hope.” Last year, he had sown paddy on two acres, but the yield was low due to the lack of water.
Fatehpur is no stranger to droughts. Last year, the Uttar Pradesh government had declared it a drought-prone district. Two years ago, the district administration had revived a 45-km rivulet, Sasur Khaderi, under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme to provide irrigation facilities.
The revival happened two years ago and the rivulet eventually became a source of hope for thousands of farmers. But the story seemed to have ended there.
“The river helped us in its first year of revival, but for the next two years we didn’t get enough rains that can make it perennial and help us irrigate our lands,” Arbind Kumar, another small farmer-cum-grocery shop owner in Fatehpur, says.
“Another immediate challenge for us is to provide fodder to the cattle. Those who have bore wells have been making some fortune out of selling ground water; others have to either face the drought or migrate elsewhere.”
Beed district in Maharastra has a similar story to tell. Like Fatehpur, it is also facing severe agrarian crisis this time. “This year, less than 60 per cent of normal sowing took place here,” says Limke Sheetal, the district agriculture officer.
“The total sowing area is reportedly around 0.55 million hectares (mha) whereas the normal sowing area is more than 0.8 mha.”
According to another agriculture officer, Bansud, Beed has almost lost its pulses. “Crops like cotton, soybean and sugarcane have been affected, but pulses have been almost destroyed.”
How bad is the scenario?
For the past two decades, August has been considered the driest month. This year, there is a rainfall deficit of 22 per cent in August and 16 per cent in July. India has received an average actual rainfall of 632.2 mm this year, which is 11 per cent less than the normal (714.1 mm).
However, compared to the severe drought witnessed in 2002 and 2009, this year the situation is not that bad as yet. The drought in these two years affected more than half of the country’s districts.
As a result of deficit rainfall, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Bihar, Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat and Telangana are likely to face food insecurity.
This is something to worry about, as these states contribute around two-thirds of the total grains produced in India. Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh are major producers of food grains, producing more than 60 per cent of wheat whereas Punjab and Uttar Pradesh contribute about one-fourth of the total rice produced in India.
This year, 12 out of 22 districts in Punjab, 16 out of 21 districts in Haryana and 50 out of 75 districts in Uttar Pradesh are facing severe drought-like situation which will affect grain production in a big way. Out of the 18 districts where the situation is really bad, 13 districts are in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. These districts have witnessed scanty rainfall with a deficit between-60 per cent and -90 per cent.
According to agricultural scientists, the near-drought situation will affect food production. In 2014, the total production of grains in India dipped by five per cent. Drought spells and unseasonal rainfall were to blame for the scenario.
Global rating agency Credit Rating Information Services of India Limited has analysed the deficient monsoon situation in Karnataka, Maharastra, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
It states that these states contribute to 34 per cent of the country’s total grain production. As they are facing a drought-like situation, the overall production will be badly hit.