Harnessing Potential of Rain-Fed Farming

by Sant Bahadur, Assistant Director, PIB, Delhi
In India, of the total cultivated area of around 140.30 million hectares only 60.86 million is irrigated and remaining 79.44 million hectares is rain-fed. Rain-fed crops account for 48 percent area under food crops and 68 percent of the area under non-food crops. Irrigated land accounts for nearly 55 percent of food production while rain-fed contributes just about 45 percent. Rain-fed farming is risk prone and is characterized by low levels of productivity and low input use but if managed properly, rain-fed areas have the potential to contribute a larger share to agricultural production.

Considering the high potential of rain-fed agriculture, the Central government accorded high priority to the holistic and sustainable development of rain-fed areas. For the promotion of rained/dryland farming, the Ministries of Agriculture and Rural Development are implementing watershed programmes through an integrated watershed management approach. Special emphasis on rained/dryland areas has also been given due importance in all other major programmes of Agriculture Ministry. Under the scheme of Macro Management of Agriculture, approximately Rs. 500 crore is allocated annually for the programmes of natural resource management for development of rain-fed and degraded areas based on watershed approach as per Annual Work Plan proposed by the States. Department of Land Resources has made provision of Rs. 15,359 crore for the XI Plan for watershed management.

Conservation and Optimization of Resources
Conservation of rainwater and optimization of soil and water resources in a sustainable and cost-effective way are the key attributes of integrated watershed management approach. National Watershed Development Project for Rain-fed Areas (NWDPRA), which was launched in 1990-91, was subsumed with the Macro Management of Agriculture supplementation/complementation of the States’ efforts through work plans from 2000-01. Its specific focus is on conservation, development and sustainable management of natural resources; enhancement of agricultural production and productivity in a sustainable manner; restoration of ecological balance in degraded and fragile rain-fed eco-systems by greening these areas; reduction in the regional disparity between irrigated and rain-fed areas and creation of sustained employment opportunities of the rural population.

The National Rain-fed Area Authority (NRAA) provides the much-needed knowledge inputs regarding systematic up-gradation and management of country’s dry land and rain-fed agriculture. The Authority is mandated to coordinate and bring convergence within and among agricultural and wasteland development programmes being implemented in rain-fed areas of the country. For the XI Five Year Plan, Rs. 123 crore has been earmarked for this purpose.
In association with concerned Ministries/Departments and Planning Commission, the Authority has published Common Guidelines for Watershed Development Projects with a fresh framework for next generation watershed programmes. New watershed projects are being prepared in accordance with these guidelines with effect from 1st April 2008. The Authority has also prepared a Vision Document for harnessing innovative policies, knowledge, technologies and opportunities for holistic and sustainable development of rain-fed areas. The Authority has also prepared a detailed format to help States in preparing perspective plans for the development of rain-fed areas. It has organized workshops for the adoption of guidelines and preparation of perspective plans. The Authority has also prepared a comprehensive report on mitigation strategy for Bundelkhand regions of UP and MP.

Integrated Watershed Management
Three World Bank assisted integrated watershed management projects are being implemented in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Assam under the supervision of Ministry of Agriculture. The World Bank gives funds for these projects directly to State Governments. In Uttarakhand, 2.34-lakh hectare area is to be covered in 468 panchayats of 11 districts. At present, work is in progress in 467 selected gram panchayats with an investment of Rs. 258.93 crore. In Himachal Pradesh, the project covers 602-gram panchayats in 10 districts and the work is in progress in all the selected panchayats. In Assam, 36, 129 tube wells and 11, 674 lift pump sets have been installed, 1077 power tillers have been supplied and provision of 700 tractors have been made under the project. An area of 15, 908 hectares has also been given drainage treatment.

German Technology Cooperation (GTZ) assisted project for decentralized watershed development is being implemented in Karnataka, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand on a pilot basis. It aims at capacity development system for watershed management at the regional and state level. A national consortium comprising Ministry of Agriculture, GTZ, International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management (NIAEM) have been constituted to achieve the objectives of the project.

NABARD’s Watershed Development Fund (WDF) is utilized for creating necessary framework to replicate and consolidate isolated but successful initiatives under different programmes in the Government, semi-government and NGO sectors. Initially, 18 states were identified for the project but ultimately only 13 states came forward. In 2006, after Prime Minister’s Rehabilitation Package to 31 distressed districts in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra, it was decided to implement participatory watershed development programmes in all these districts through WDF. At present, 1,196 watersheds have been selected, out of which 416 are in non-distressed districts of 13 states and 780 in 31 distressed districts under the PM’s package.

Research & Training Programme
Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has also allocated a budget of Rs. 75 crore in XI Plan for Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA) and All India Coordinated Research Project on Dryland Agriculture (AICRPDA). It has developed technology modules in dryland farming for various agro-climatic zones. Eighteen model watershed projects covering different agro-ecological regions of the country have been assigned to Central Soil and Water Conservation Research and Training Institute (CSWCRTI) and ICRISAT to address the bio-physical and socio-economic dimensions of specific agro-climatic conditions and to develop suitable technologies for maximizing the development process under watershed programmes. These projects are to serve as model projects for replicating successful technologies for wider dissemination through NWDPRA and other national and state level funded watershed projects.

Assistance is provided to farmers to adopt these technologies under most schemes such as KVY, NFSM, National Horticulture Mission and Macro Management of Agriculture. Besides, 25 Dryland Centres of ICAR have benefited large number of farmers directly through on-farm trials/ inputs and indirectly through training programmes. All the farmers in the country including dryland farmers are eligible to get credit facilities from banks as per the extant policies of Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and NABARD. In the watershed programmes, assistance is provided for natural resource management related activities. Besides, in most of the other agriculture development programmes, incentives are provided to the farmers in terms of subsidy for various agricultural inputs/operations.

Impact evaluation studies done on the ground and through remote sensing techniques reveal that watershed-based interventions have led to increase in groundwater recharge, number of wells and water bodies and enhancement of cropping intensity. It has also brought about changes in cropping patterns leading to higher yields and reduction in soil losses. It is proposed to develop about 2.34 million hectares covering about 3,878 micro watersheds in the XI Plan. Out of this, an area of 7.96 lakh hectares has been developed at a cost of Rs. 638.40 crore by December 2009.

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