<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>In April this year, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) announced that India would see above-average rainfall, claiming the monsoons would be six per cent above normal. The announcement came as a relief to farmers, small town workers, city-dwellers, and even politicians as several parts of India, including interior Maharashtra, had witnessed back-to-back droughts that resulted in high inflation and farmers committing suicide over burgeoning debt. By the end of September, when the monsoon officially ended—even though Mumbaikars could be forgiven for thinking it would never end—the actual numbers were a far cry from the IMD’s original projections. Instead of the, well, sunny projection of 106 per cent of the LPA, the actual rainfall came in at 97 per cent, missing the below-normal classification by the proverbial whisker. The LPA is defined as the average of the rainfall received during a 50-year period between 1951 and 2000, which comes to about 890 mm. A normal monsoon is one when rainfall is between 96 per cent and 104 per cent of the LPA. An “above normal” monsoon occurs when rainfall remains between 104 percent and 110 per cent of the LPA.This isn’t the first time that the IMD has got its numbers wrong. According to figures provided by the department, it has got its April forecast of the ‘rainfall range’ wrong 70 per cent of the time. There have been a few years—such as in 2010—when despite a prediction of below-normal showers, rainfall was above normal, with many regions experiencing devastating floods.However, VK Rajeev, Director of IMD (Mumbai) says it is unfair to claim that the IMD miscalculates, as the LPA has a plus-minus factor that one needs to take into consideration when the department predicts the monsoon for the year. But even accounting for the +/- 4 per cent that the IMD had accounted for, the final average comes in well short of the IMD’s projections. According to Rudresh Kumar Sugam, Senior Programme Lead, Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), New Delhi, although 80 per cent of India’s monsoon is between June and September, there is unequal spatial distribution. “This could easily observed by the fact that the Brahmaputra and Barak basin, with only 7.3 per cent of the geographical area and 4.2 per cent of the country’s population, have 31 per cent of the annual water resources,” he said.The effect on agricultureSugam adds that for a vulnerable agricultural sector, climate change that includes frequent droughts and high-intensity floods have added to complications.According to a paper published by researchers at Stanford University that analyses 60 years of Indian monsoon trends, the frequency of dry spells and the intensity of wet spells has only increased. In addition, the paper said that the period between 1981 and 2011 had more than twice as many years with three or more dry spells as compared to the period between 1951 and 1980. The dry spell frequency, according to the paper, shows an increase of 27 per cent.A CEEW report suggests that if global carbon emissions continue to remain high, flooding in the Ganga basin could be six times more frequent, becoming a 1 in 5 year event over the course of the century. According to an article published by the India Food Security Portal in August, several parts of the country, including Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, witnessed flooding due to flooding in the river.While several parts of India faced flooding, several states like Gujarat, Kerala, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh and Odisha have witnessed deficient rains, with the deficit as high as 49 per cent in Gujarat as of August 2016. CEEW’s research also finds that climate change will result in significant economic losses for Indian agriculture. Production losses in rice, wheat and maize alone could go up to $208 billion in 2050, rising to $366 billion in 2100 respectively. “Also, coastal regions, which depend a lot on fisheries, are among the most vulnerable areas. Several other issues such as a shift in the cropping system, new pest attacks, loss of crop diversity, among others, could arise if there is significant temporal and spatial variation in temperatures and monsoons,” said Sugam.The way forwardFifty years ago, when Dr MS Swaminathan launched the Green Revolution in India, the intensive use of fertilisers, pesticides, improved seeds, and mechanisation ensured food security with record output each year. However, the interventions have had major impact on soil and water. Now, across the country, there are several individuals—both urban and rural—who are trying to rethink farming methods and focusing on how to ensure high productivity without compromising on the quality of water and soil available.Thirty-two-year-old Kshitij Ruia, who has a 35-acre farm at Palghar, on the outskirts of Mumbai, says that when he purchased the plot of land one-and-a-half years ago, it was considered by many as varkas zameen, or barren land, where cultivation is not possible. “We took it as a challenge to convert the land and after consulting with experts, we employed organic techniques including using cow dung and vermicomposting and went ahead with mixed farming,” he says.Since then, the water table has risen from 12 feet to 7 feet, thanks to the methods used by Ruia and his team. “I’d recommend that we go organic because of the quality of produce,” he said. While Ruia may be one of few individuals who employ vermicomposting as a technique, several media reports suggest that only rich farmers use organic techniques and that poorer farmers still prefer using chemicals. Ruia, who attributes his going all-organic as the main reason for his farm’s success story, does not discount that mixed farming has helped as well. Mixed farming, although a technique not employed across the country, has been used in several states. According to a paper titled ‘The Economics of Mixed Farming in Kerala’, for mixed farming to be an ideal system is to diversify the economic activities in an interdependent and integrated manner at the micro level with the available resources. “An ideal mixed farm ensures recycling of residues, optimum resource use, and higher employment. It also minimises risk and uncertainties and provides for stable farm income,” the paper states. Despite the drought and the below-par rainfall faced this year, Sugam is still hopeful. “The second Green Revolution needs to focus on drought-resistant crops, information-based action, lower water footprint, retention of soil carbon and increased crop diversity,” he says. Then there are little nuggets of local ingenuity and enterprise that could also show the way. In 1975, for example, the year that Emergency was imposed across the country, a revolution of sorts took place in a small village called Ralegan Siddhi in Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district. The village is located in the ‘rain shadow area’ of India, meaning it receives, on an average, only 35 days of rain a year. In the 70s, most of the people living in this agricultural village were below poverty level. When social activist Anna Hazare—who achieved fame later with his anti-corruption movement—returned to his village that year, he brought the locals together and undertook a project to construct nala bunds, embankments constructed across streams for checking the pace of runoff, increasing water percolation, and improving soil moisture regime.While the story is often held up as a shining example of water management, more than 40 years later drought and food security remains a serious issue in India.If we are able to implement even half of the suggestions, then Ralegaon Siddhi will be just one of many villages in India to have a success story.
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