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Faced with drought, Indian farmers look for help

Government, church assistance doesn't make up for lack of rain

Ritu Sharma, Banda

Ritu Sharma, Banda

Published: February 09, 2016 07:30 AM GMT

Updated: February 09, 2016 07:58 AM GMT

Faced with drought, Indian farmers look for help

Ram Kumar Pal sits in an empty field in Dhakota village in India's drought-stricken Uttar Pradesh state. "All the farmers are in the same boat," he says. (Photo by Bijay Kumar Minj)

When Ram Kumar Pal's fields did not yield anything for the third consecutive year, he had no choice but to sell his livestock.

He wanted to sell one of the two cows he owns. But there were no takers for his cattle in his Dhakota village in drought-hit northern Uttar Pradesh state.

"All the farmers are in the same boat. No yield from our lands, and no income. It is not surprising that nobody is buying my cattle," says Pal who owns less than one hectare of land.

Pal said his yield of wheat has been decreasing because of poor rainfall over the past decade. "The last three years have been very difficult. There has been no production at all because of drought. My fields are empty and for a farmer this sight is very painful," he said.

The drought hit Bundelkhand region, spreads across Uttar Pradesh and neighboring Madhya Pradesh states. The region, according to the last census in 2011, has 18.3 million people with about 80 percent of them living in villages that depend directly on farming.

The drought-hit region covers over 50 million hectares but only half of it is cultivable, since the rest falls under the categories of forest, barren and grazing land, according to government data.

The farmers here mostly cultivate wheat as their main crop but also grow gram, lentils and seasonal vegetables. But lack of cultivation means hunger, poverty, migration and death.

 

Farmersuicides

An average of 16,000 farmers a year have committed suicide in India purportedly to escape debt incurred by continued farm failure, according to the government's own data.

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Pal says he borrowed 80,000 rupees (US$1,194) to buy seeds and fertilizers and "the piling interest is giving me sleepless nights."

"The input is increasing, and the output is nil. Farmers are ruined," he adds.

A study by the National Institute of Disaster Management shows a 2004 drought in the Uttar Pradesh area of Bundelkhand led to a trend of decreasing rainfall every year, while the same trend began in Madhya Pradesh in 2006.

Some farmers, like Balinder Singh of Kaptiha Kalan village thought bore wells could help him.

He spent some 400,000 rupees to bore a well in his fields two years ago "but since then I had to bore the pipes deeper due to the falling water table," Singh told ucanews.com.

He said he has no more to spend even as water levels go down. He has yet to recover his costs of the original well.

Singh said that out of the 8,900 hectares of land in his village, 6,100 hectares are not cultivated and fields are left empty due to want of water.

People are finding difficulty in finding even drinking water and for their daily needs, said Raju Saharia of Soldah village.

"There are six hand pumps in the village but currently only two are giving water," he told ucanews.com.

An Indian farmer collects what she can in order to feed her cattle. (Photo by Bijay Kumar Minj)

 

Acuteshortages

The drought arrived before the summer season of April-June when temperatures can hit 45 Celsius leading to an acute shortage of water, says Umesh Chand Rajput of Pahwa village, sharing a common concern of the villagers.

"There are no green pastures left for the cattle to graze. They survive on hay. As the situation becomes acute, some will die in the coming months," he said.

With no hope in sight many have opted to migrate to neighboring cities, such as Jamni Devi’s two sons, who now live in Hyderabad in southern Andhra Pradesh. They left despite having just over four hectares of land in their Kaptiha Kalan village.

"They iron clothes and do odd jobs in Hyderabad. They had to go since we were not able to grow anything in our fields and it was getting difficult to meet our household expenses," Devi says.

To mitigate farmers' problems, the social service wing of Jhansi Diocese is helping them go back to organic and primitive methods of farming where they can lessen their input costs and increase their output.

 

 

Churchhelps

The diocese, which covers the drought-hit region in Uttar Pradesh, has introduced "Harit Prayas" (green efforts) to help famers go back to traditional farming methods without depending on bank loans for seeds and fertilizers.

The project, although not addressing the drought issue directly, is now operating in 36 villages to help farmers "depend on natural resources and lessen some of the costs of farming," says Father V.J. Thomas, director of the diocese’s social service wing. He said the project helps and guide famers on chemical-free natural farming.

The priest said that although the response by the farmers has been good, they have not been able to reach out to "everyone in all the districts" due to lack of funds.

"We want to help but can only reach out to a meager number of farmers due to insufficient funds," he adds.

The federal government announced a special Bundelkhand package of 72,660 million rupees in 2009 for drought mitigation strategies in the region, according to the National Rain-fed Area Authority.

The government has already released more than half of the money, its website says. However, little is seen on the ground, says Jai Ram Yadav of Soldah village in Lalitpur district. He says he is "unaware of any financial help given to the farmers."

"What package? Nothing has come to us until now. We are managing on our own and our requests seem to be falling on deaf years," he says.

However, the state-run Krishi Vigyan Kendras (agriculture knowledge centers) are proving to be of some help to farmers. The centers are teaching farmers to adopt water-harvesting techniques.

"We conduct soil testing for the farmers so that accordingly they come to know what contents are lacking in their agricultural soil and take steps in that direction. Apart from this, we also provide them high-quality seeds free of cost," Mukesh Chand, the program’s senior scientist in Jhansi district, told ucanews.com.

Chand said that they organize regular seminars and workshops for farmers where they encourage them to cultivate crops that use less water and also concentrate on other sources of income like cattle rearing.

"We have also given farmers helpline numbers where they can talk to us directly and discuss agricultural problems in a particular area and about crops," he added.

However, Pal sitting in his parched land said he has no other option than wait for rain.

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