Trial and error
Farmers adapt to changing weather by switching crops
Farmers who have to live with the reality of unpredictable rainfall are trying to cope as best as they can. They are experimenting with different crops to see what works. And each time they start new field trials, they incur debts. In Andhra Pradesh, where intense rainfall incidents are increasing, farmers are growing fruit orchards. In Chhattisgarh, where average rainfall is decreasing, farmers are growing pulses and sorghum that require less water.
Intense rainfall but less water
Adi Narayana, a farmer living in Mukundapuram village in Garladinne mandal of Anantapur district, used to grow millets and sorghum on his 1.4 ha farm. Twelve years ago he shifted to groundnut cultivation when the area began to receive above-normal rainfall over longer periods. Groundnut cultivation is rainfed and Narayana thought he would make some profits.
Rainfall data shows Anantapur was getting 143 days of rainfall a year between 1991 and 2001 as against 98 days between 1961 and 1990.
But severe droughts between 2001 and 2004 and frequent intense rains in the following years ruined his crops. He realized he was spending Rs 10,000 to grow a crop that earned him just Rs 5,000. He decided to reduce his risk and grow sweet lime that is not dependent on rains and is less labour intensive. He sunk a borewell to irrigate his fields.
Like Narayana, other farmers in the district too started growing sweet lime trees after the intense rains in 2008 destroyed their groundnut crop.
When Narayana sold the first sweet lime harvest in 2008, he earned Rs 50,000. "I took a loan of Rs 1 lakh four years ago when I decided to switch to sweet lime and have spent Rs 25,000 every year since on nurturing the trees. I now hope to pay off my debts and earn some profits," Narayana said. But there is one thing that is bothering him.
The fruit trees need to be watered throughout the year and so are heavily dependent on groundwater for irrigation. In Marthadu village adjoining Mukundapuram, farmers had switched to fruit cultivation but it depleted the groundwater. As a result, four farmers who incurred heavy debts were driven to suicide between 2001 and 2003. One of them was Vamsi Krishna Reddy, 32, a rich landowner with 9.7 ha land who took loans to switch to fruit cultivation. Narayana said growing sweet lime was his last resort to make farming profitable. "If the groundwater here depletes my family will perish," he said.
Digging borewell has now become the only way to meet water needs in Anantapur. The minor irrigation department too is encouraging water- intensive agriculture by heavily subsidizing borewells. Non-profits said this would create more problems for farmers. G V Ramajaneyulu, the executive director of Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Hyderabad, said cultivating crops that require less water and promoting traditional varieties of food crops would help agriculture in the global warming scenario. His organization is promoting sustainable and organic farming in Andhra Pradesh.
Lower rainfall turned humid area arid
Mohammad Salim Rokaria, a farmer in Banbagoid village in Dhamtari district of Chhattisgarh, is already feeling the pinch of groundwater depletion. He converted his 4.5ha farm into fruit orchards eight years ago. "In the beginning there was water at a depth of 160 feet. In the last eight years I had to insert 20 feet pipes twice into the borewell as the water table has plummeted," said Rokaria. "Dhamtari is irrigated with water from Gangrel dam of the Mahanadi.
|Adi Narayana in Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh, gave up groundnut farming|
|Salim Rokaria in Dhamtari, Chhattisgarh, left paddy farming|
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