Seeing the increasing drought, the farmers of Jharkhand ask what will we grow and what will we eat.
Last time, Shriram Mahto harvested around 30 quintals of paddy from his 3.5-acre farm in Jharkhand’s Bokaro district, generating enough income to meet his family’s needs for a year. Straw, a byproduct of the crop, was used to feed cattle.
On Tuesday, 65-year-old Sadma Khurd was looking at the sky with a folded umbrella under his shoulder near his vacant land in the village. He is yet to fully plant his crop and has already spent about Rs 10,000 on seeds, fertilizers and pesticides, and Rs 4,000 on plowing a small part of his field. Rice from last year’s crop will keep its family of eight members running for “about 15 more days”. “It hasn’t rained, what will we grow and eat?” He asked.
Jharkhand is facing drought this year.
According to senior state government officials, the issue was raised by Chief Minister Hemant Soren last week in a meeting of the NITI Aayog chaired by the Prime Minister. Jharkhand’s agriculture department has launched a statewide survey to “understand the depth of drought” and the condition of farmers.
Agriculture Department director Nisha Oraon said that after the survey report is submitted by August 18, the government will give a package to the farmers. “We will work on two fronts: how to compensate farmers and ensure a contingency plan for drought; And how to deal with food shortage due to drought. We will give all possible help to the farmers,” she said.
“The same problem happens every three years, and then there is a food crisis,” said Mahto, a Bokaro farmer. He says the family’s “only hope” is his son Raj Kishore, who works daily as a painter in the city of Bokaro.
According to the India Meteorological Department, Jharkhand received scanty rainfall between June 1 and August 11 this year. While the state’s average rainfall for this period is 616.5 mm, it has received only 348.3 mm – 44 percent less this time. As of August 11, some districts like Chatra, Godda, Jamtara, Pakur and Sahibganj received 40 percent less rainfall than normal, while Bokaro received less than 65 percent rainfall.
Abhishek Anand, Scientist and Officer-in-Charge, IMD Ranchi said: “Monsoon had started in June but the rainfall was very less as conditions like low pressure and depression did not develop during June and July except two or three times. In the northern Bay of Bengal, which generally affects Bihar, Jharkhand and other regions.
Meanwhile, there is already a fear of getting caught in the debt trap of farmers in the fields.
“The last time when the rains were less, in 2019, we were able to sow some crops. This year, the problem is much greater as there was not enough rain for the entire sowing season. We have already spent Rs 13,000, and if it doesn’t rain we will fall into another round of debt and debt,” said Mahato’s neighbour Neelavati Kumari, who works in the fields owned by her husband’s family.
“We get ration rice but the card covers just three of us, which means around 15 kg every month. We get an additional 5 kg rice per person per month after the (central) government’s announcement last year,” said Mahato.
Mahto, who holds a Primary Household (PHH) ration card for rural households, 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 grains per month to each beneficiary covered under the National Food Security Act, will end on September 30.
“If this scheme is called off, my family will be in serious trouble,” Mahto said.
Officials say that the effect of less rainfall in Jharkhand in the last few years is visible in the shrinking area of paddy cultivation. In 2016-17, the area under cultivation was 17,06,000 hectares. This declined to 13,57,000 hectares in 2019-20. The area under cultivation increased to 17,50,000 hectares in 2021-22, producing 51,16,000 tonnes of paddy. In 2021-22, only 17,11,000 hectares were under cultivation, producing 44,60,000 tonnes of paddy.
At the NITI Aayog meeting, officials said Soren demanded a “drought relief package” from the Centre, saying this year “Jharkhand has received less than 50 percent of the rainfall and sowing (paddy) has been done in less than 20 .percent lands” so far.
According to officials, he also said that the state “faces the brunt of drought every three-four years as there is no irrigation facility”.
Official data shows that around 80 percent of the state’s population living in about 32,500 villages depend on agriculture and allied activities for livelihood. It also shows that 85 percent of groundwater is under-utilized for agriculture.
“The agricultural economy in Jharkhand is mostly rain-fed farming with a single crop – paddy. Wells are the main source of irrigation followed by ponds and canals. This system is largely dependent on rain.
The Economic Survey for 2021-22 suggests that better irrigation facilities and “a judicious mix of water and land management can improve agricultural productivity” in the state.
Officials said the Water Resources Department has started the restoration work of 192 ponds, dams and other water bodies at a cost of about Rs 144 crore.
Oraon, director of the Agriculture Department, said that scientists have suggested ways to diversify crops, such as the sowing of cereals. “We have placed orders for 60,000 quintals of cereal seeds for Kharif crops. We are also working on early Rabi crops, which farmers can sow. This is to avert a food crisis,” Oraon said, adding that she was on her way to “assess the situation” in the Khunti district.
However, the gap between official plans and ground reality was visible when a state survey team visited the village of Mahto in Peterwar block.
“We are in deep trouble. Why don’t you tell us about schemes like PM-Kisan? Mahato angrily asked the team, citing a centrally funded scheme under which rupees 6,000 is transferred in three equal installments would be given to eligible farmer families in a year.
“Nobody had informed us about this plan. When we came to know about this, the block officials told us that the registration has been closed. It is not a significant amount, but this is the time when we need money,” said Neelavati Kumari, Mahato’s neighbour.
When contacted, Director of Agriculture Oraon said, “Fresh registrations of all farmers for doing e-KYC have been stopped”.
Pankaj Roy, working president of Jharkhand Kisan Mahasabha, who is from Peterwar and had come to meet distressed farmers when the survey team arrived, asked: “Why is the agriculture department not thinking of providing irrigation facilities when the Tenughat reservoir is barely 10 km away? Why can’t check dams are built and rainwater can’t be stored?”
A member of the official team, which included district and state level agriculture officials, replied that the visit was “for survey only” and that farmers “need to visit the block office for any details”.
Local school teacher Koplesh Kumar Mahato was watching from afar the acrimonious tussle. “My students are unable to pay tuition fees due to delay in sowing. Everything here is related to paddy.