A year without a crop

A failed monsoon is alarming for Jharkhand, a state where severe drought has become more frequent in the last 2 decades 

By Richard Mahapatra
Published: Thursday 08 September 2022
फोटो: विकिमीडिया कॉमन्स, धान का खेत

It is rare for a chief minister to talk about a drought in the middle of the monsoon. But Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren did in his Independence Day speech last month.

It was not just a regular mention; rather he wanted to warn of one of the worst droughts of recent past. When he spoke, the state had nearly 40 per cent deficit monsoon and sowing coverage of the staple paddy crop was just 31 per cent. And usually August 15 is considered as the last day for sowing of paddy.

In the next three weeks (by September 7), the state reconciled to a terrible crop year: The monsoon was deficit by 26 per cent and sowing was just half of the normal. Nearly two-thirds of the districts had less than 10 per cent of sowing and there was uncertainty whether those standing crops could be saved as well.

As a year without a crop for thousands of farmers sets in, the distress mass migration outside the state for wages has already started. Labour contractors have deployed special buses to transport people to Tamil Nadu, Kerala and even Jammu and Kashmir. Local railway stations are also flooded with people migrating out.  

As extreme weather events continue to wreck us — with altering contrasting events — the ordeal of Jharkhand this year is premonitory to what climate change would mean to the poor, particularly having no capacity to absorb such a livelihood crisis or to adapt to it.

From the onset, the monsoon this year was erratic; it took unusual breaks. In most of the states sowing had been delayed by nearly one-and-half-months. When the monsoon activated, extreme rains washed away sprouting crop.

For farmers, it is akin to an economic capital punishment. But if that farmer happens to be from Jharkhand, it is a collapse of a way of life and without a clear escape route for the future.

Jharkhand is a compulsive agrarian state, but with limited conditionality. Only 43 per cent of the state’s cultivable land is cultivated, contrary to a national figure of 76 per cent. Close to 80 per cent people — mostly small and marginal farmers — depend on agriculture for survival. Above 92 per cent of the cropped area is marked for food crops, predominantly paddy.

But, the agrarian economy is entirely dependent on rain. The state has only a kharif crop, thus making it the most crucial one for livelihood. This is because 90 per cent of the sown areas are rainfed and 82 per cent of annual rainfall is received during monsoon only. In a recent multi-dimensional poverty index by the NITI Aayog, Jharkhand was ranked second-poorest after Bihar. And the prime reason behind chronic poverty is non-remunerative agriculture.

Climate change is hitting this the most. The state’s climate action plan warned that droughts would be more frequent and also ferocious in its grip.

According to the state's own study, severe drought has become frequent after 2000. During the last 14 years, the entire state has suffered drought seven times, a record in the country. Every drought not just takes away a livelihood source but also adds on to the debt burden as people lose investment on agriculture.

This perpetuates the poverty cycle. This is the reason the state’s climate action plan also terms the state having the least capacity to adapt to climate change. This also points at how poor communities or agri-dependent countries would face the climate change impact.

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