Impacts of Droughts

The main food crops affected by drought are rice, wheat, pearl millet, sorghum, and pegion pea that are grown during southwest monsoon season under rain-fed conditions. Legumes and pulses, which are short-duration crops, are less affected. Persistent droughts cause crop failures and lead to acute shortage of food, fodder, and water (for drinking or irrigation), affecting human and livestock health. During drought years, people and livestock in the arid parts of Rajasthan migrate to neighboring states in search of food, fodder, drinking water, and employment (figure 23.2).

Droughts that occurred in India in 1967,1968,1969,1972,1974,1979, and 1987 (Ministry of Agriculture, 1988) had considerable impact on food grains production (figure 23.3). For example, the drought of 1966-67 reduced overall food grains production by 19%, and the loss in production of rice and other pulses was 30% in 1965-66, 66% in 1966-67, and 86%

AGRICULTURAL DROUGHT IN INDIA 299 Table 23.1 Frequency of occurrences of droughts in India

Geographical region Drought frequency

West Rajasthan and Kutchchh Once in 2.5 years

Telengana, Rayalaseema, Tamil Nadu, south interior Karnataka, Once in 3 years eastern Rajasthan, and Gujarat

Vidarbha, Uttar Pradesh, north interior Karnakata, and west Madhya Once in 4 years Pradesh

Bihar, West Bengal, Orissa, coastal Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, coastal Once in 5 years

Karnataka, Konkan, east Madhya Pradesh, and Maharastra

Northeastern regions Once in 15 years

Source: Appa Rao (1991).

in 1967-68. The droughts of 1972-73 reduced the food grains production from 108 to 95 million tons, causing a loss of about $400 million.

In 1999, droughts occurred in 12 states, affecting about 100 million human and 60 million livestock population, mostly in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh states. A survey conducted during the 1999-2000 drought in Rajasthan and Gujarat showed that the fodder deficit in the arid parts of Rajasthan was 50-75%, which resulted in 78% of the livestock migrating from the Barmer, 70% from the Jaisalmer, and 20% from the Jodhpur district in Rajasthan State. Net sowing area also declined significantly. Traditional occupations (farming, livestock husbandry) were replaced by labor for relief works during drought years. The groundwater levels declined at the rate of 0.2-0.4 m/annum. The quality of groundwater also deteriorated, and the concentration of undesirable

Figure 23.2 A family migrating from drought-prone areas (in Rajasthan, India) to adjoining areas or states in search for food, water, and employment during 1999-2000 drought year.
Foodgrain Production 2001 2002
Figure 23.3 The variation in total food grain production in India for the period from 196667 to 1998-99 (from India, 2001).

substances such as fluoride and nitrate often reached toxic levels (Narain et al., 2000).

Venkateswarlu (1987) analyzed the yield fluctuations of different crops and found that rice was affected to a greater extent by drought because 60% of the rice crop is rain-fed, whereas wheat crop production is affected less because 65% of wheat is irrigated. During certain years, drought continued for more than one year and had multiple effects on natural resources as well as on humans and livestock. Assessment of drought effects on food grains production in the country showed that sorghum was affected only in Rajasthan and Gujarat, while pearl millet was affected in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, and Maharashtra states (Venkateswarlu, 1993).

During some of the worst drought years, the monsoon rainfall was significantly below normal: -26% in 1918, -25% in 1972, and -19% in 1987. In 1987, agricultural operations were affected in 43% (58.6 million ha) of cropped area in 263 districts in 15 states and 6 Union Territories. In Rajasthan and Gujarat, which were worst affected, the rainfall was less than 50% of the normal. In these states, the drought of 1987 was the third or fourth in succession and caused distress of an unprecedented level. Nearly 54,000 villages faced acute drinking water problems. India also experienced extreme drought conditions during 1998-2000, as shown in table 23.2.

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