Faced with impending drought, farmers in Jharkhand are wondering: what are we going to grow and what are we going to eat?

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LAST TIME, Shriram Mahato harvested around 30 quintals of paddy from his 3.5 acre field in Bokaro district of Jharkhand, with enough income to support his family for a year. The by-product of the harvest, the straw, was used to feed the cattle.

On Tuesday, the 65-year-old stood by his empty land in the village of Sadma Khurd, an umbrella folded under his shoulder, staring up at the sky. He has not yet been able to fully plant his crop and has already spent around Rs 10,000 on seeds, fertilizers and pesticides, and Rs 4,000 on plowing a small part of his field. The rice from last year’s harvest will allow his family of eight to live “about 15 days longer”. “There has been no rain, what will we grow and what will we eat?” He asked.

Drought threatens Jharkhand this year.

According to senior state government officials, Chief Minister Hemant Soren raised the issue during the NITI Aayog meeting chaired by the Prime Minister last week. Jharkhand’s agriculture department has launched a statewide survey to “understand the extent of the drought” and the condition of farmers.

Agriculture Department Director Nisha Oraon said the government will offer packages to farmers after the survey report is submitted “by August 18”. “We will work on two fronts: how to compensate the farmers and ensure a contingency plan for the drought; and how to deal with food shortages due to drought. We will give all possible help to the farmers,” she said.

“Every three years it’s the same problem, then there’s a food crisis,” said Mahato, the farmer from Bokaro. He says the family’s “only hope” is his son Raj Kishore who works for a daily wage as a painter in the town of Bokaro.

According to the Indian Meteorological Department, Jharkhand received insufficient rainfall between June 1 and August 11 this year. While the state’s average rainfall for this period is 616.5mm, it only received 348.3mm this time, or 44% less. As of August 11, some districts, such as Chatra, Godda, Jamtara, Pakur and Sahibganj received less than 40% of normal rainfall while Bokaro received less than 65%.

Abhishek Anand, Scientist and Officer-in-Charge, IMD Ranchi said, “The onset of the monsoon occurred in June, but rainfall was very less as conditions such as low pressure and depression did not form in June. June and July, except two or three times, in the northern Bay of Bengal, which usually affect Bihar, Jharkhand and other areas.

In the fields, meanwhile, there are already fears that farmers will fall into the debt trap.

“The last time the rains were less, in 2019, we were able to sow some crops. This year, the problem is much bigger because there has not been enough rain for the whole planting season. We have already spent 13,000 rupees, and if it doesn’t rain, we will fall into another round of loans and debts,” said Mahato’s neighbor, Nilawati Kumari, who works in fields belonging to her family’s family. husband.

“We receive rice as a ration, but the card only covers three of us, which means around 15 kg per month. We are also getting an additional 5 kg of rice per person per month after the (central) government announced it last year,” Mahato said.

Mahato, who holds a Priority Household Ration Card (PHH) for rural families, was referring to the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY), launched during the Covid lockdown. The scheme, which provides an additional 5 kg of free food grain per month to each beneficiary covered by the National Food Security Act, will end on September 30.

“My family will be in serious crisis if this program is interrupted,” Mahato said.

Officials point out that the impact of insufficient rainfall over the years in Jharkhand is being felt in the shrinking area of ​​paddy cultivation. In 2016-17, the cultivated area was 17,06,000 hectares. This dropped to 13.57,000 hectares in 2019-20. In 2021-22, the cultivation area increased to Rs 17,50,000 hectares, which produced 51,16,000 tons of paddy. In 2021-22, the crop was only grown on 17.11,000 hectares, generating 44.60,000 tons of paddy.
At the NITI Aayog meeting, officials said Soren requested a ‘drought relief package’ from the Center, pointing out that this year ‘Jharkhand has received less than 50% of rainfall and the seedlings (of paddy) have been made in less than 20 percent of the earth” so far.

According to officials, he also said the state “bears the brunt of drought every three or four years because there are no irrigation facilities.”

Official data shows that about 80% of the state’s population, residing in about 32,500 villages, depend on agriculture and related activities for their livelihood. It also shows that for agriculture, 85% of groundwater is underused.

“Jharkhand’s agricultural economy is mainly rainfed with one crop – paddy. Wells are the main source of irrigation, followed by reservoirs and canals. This system is highly dependent on rainfall,” an official said.
The 2021-22 economic study points out that better irrigation facilities and “a judicious mix of water and land management can improve agricultural productivity” in the state.

Taking inspiration, officials said, the Department of Water Resources has started restoration works in 192 ponds, dams and other water bodies at a cost of around Rs 144 crore.

Agriculture Department Director Oraon said scientists have suggested ways to diversify crops, such as sowing cereals. “We have placed orders for 60,000 quintals of cereal seeds for late Kharif crops. We are also working on early rabi crops, which can be sown by farmers. This is to avoid a food crisis,” Oraon said, adding that she was on her way to Khunti district “to assess the situation.”

However, the disconnect between the official plans and the reality on the ground was visible when a state survey team visited the village of Mahato in the Peterwar block.

“We are in big trouble. Why don’t you tell us about programs like PM-KISAN? Mahato asked the team angrily, referring to the central government funded scheme under which Rs 6,000 is transferred in three equal installments to eligible farming families within a year.

“No one had informed us of this scheme. When we learned of this, the block officers told us that the recording had stopped. It’s not a big sum, but this is the time when we need the money,” Mahato’s neighbor Nilawati Kumari said.
When contacted, Director of Agriculture Oraon said that “new registrations may have been halted to do E-KYC of all farmers.”

The incumbent chairman of Jharkhand Kisan Mahasabha, Pankaj Roy, who is from Peterwar and had come to meet the distressed farmers when the survey team arrived, asked, “Why does the Department of Agriculture not think provide irrigation facilities when the Tenughat Reservoir is barely 10 km away? Why can’t check dams be built and rainwater stored? »
A member of the official team, which included agricultural officers at district and state level, replied that the visit was “only for investigation” and that farmers should “visit the block office for all details”.

Koplesh Kumar Mahato, a teacher at the local school, watched the heated exchange from a distance. “My students cannot pay school fees because of the late sowing. Everything here is related to paddy,” he said.

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