Dry valley

Friday 15 October 1999

An unusual drought threatens agriculture in the Kashmir valley

a drought in the Kashmir valley has caught the government unawares. Usually susceptible to floods, the catastrophic management of this area has always focussed on floods. According to the state agriculture department, out of a total 165,000 hectares (ha) under paddy cultivation in the valley, 60,000 ha have been affected by the drought, of which 36,000 ha has been severely hit. Besides, maize sown in April, other crops have totally failed. Of the total area of 100,000 ha under maize cultivation, in almost 60 per cent of land there will be no production this year.

"Due to an enormous fall in the normal precipitation level, many crops have failed. Our estimates show that this year the production of maize will be less by 60-70 per cent, while the paddy production will be half of last year's production. This means we will sustain a loss of around Rs 400 crore," says S U Sofi, director, department of agriculture, Jammu and Kashmir. Official figures reveal that normal precipitation levels have decreased by 348.7 mm between October 1998 to July 1999 from the average normal precipitation level of 836.1 mm that was recorded in the past fifty years. Between October 1998 to July 1999, it recorded just 487.4 mm.

"If the precipitation level recedes by 50 per cent, the valley experiences a drought," says B P Yadav, director meteorological department of Kashmir. However, Sofi maintains that the monsoon is not pronounced in the valley as the people depend mostly on glacier and snow-melt water. "We get snowfall in winter which melts in summer and is utilised for irrigation and drinking. Besides, we get rainfall in March and April, which this year, was below normal. Therefore it affected the agricultural production," says Sofi.

The only hope for the farmers is Jhelum, which irrigates most of the agricultural land across the Kashmir Valley. But, even the quantity of water carried by this river has witnessed a sharp fall. Against the normal discharge of 7,840 and 6,305 cusecs for the month of May and June 1998 respectively, discharge decreased by 55 and 84 per cent in same period this year. The pump sets provided by the irrigation department failed to function with the fall in the water level.

According to state rural development department figures about 180,000 families have been adversely affected. "The fall in agricultural production could also affect the state's large cattle population," says Hussain Shah, head of department of agronomy at the Sher-E-Kashmir University of Agriculture Sciences and Technology.

Following the drought, the government advised the farmers to switch over to short-duration crops such as pulses, maize and bajra . The government has provided them seeds at subsidised rates to counter the drought situation.

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