Agricultural choices in a Rain Scarcity Zone in a Drought Year - 2012: The Kumbharwadi Farmers’ Response

Submitted by Arjuna Srinidhi | published 21st Jul 2013 | last updated 13th Jan 2020


Tomato plots in Kumbharwadi

Weather variations are being experienced more frequently and severely today, affecting the farming community the most. On the 4th December 2010, the calibrated automated weather station (AWS) in Darewadi recorded 272mm rainfall. Having completed the rabi (winter crop) sowing in October/November, the heavy rains had destroyed the growing crop leaving farmers dejected. For the first time in the last 20 years, they re-sowed the rabi crop late December[1]. The shift resulted in harvesting shrivelled wheat grain in mid-April in a temperature of 40°C.

Sangamner block is not the only area experiencing such vagaries of weather. It is the same picture everywhere in Maharashtra. For farmers, the loss is not just financial. They are clueless as how to deal with weather uncertainties particularly when they grow unfamiliar crops. For such, they have no traditional knowledge to fall back on.

The current choice of crops is heavily dictated by market demand. The trend is towards cultivating crops which can fetch a higher price, making farmers vulnerable from both the market forces and the weather. An indication of this is years when many tomatoes are thrown along the road side, or left in the field to rot, for sending them to market is not affordable. 

Comparative study of crop choice pre- and post- implementation of Watershed Development

“It was the best of the times, it was worst of the times. It was the season of light; it was the season of darkness.”  

These lines of Charles Dickens in the 1860s are apt for what occurred in Kumbharwadi in 2012.

During 2012 a year of poor rainfall when many districts of Maharashtra faced drought, a GIS study in Kumbharwadi village[2] revealed something startling: crop diversity in the village had increased. 64% of farmer households had diversified crops much more as compared with the previous year. This article captures the comparative study of crops cultivated in the village before watershed development [WSD] (1996), in years 2011 and 2012, farmers’ choices and their reasons for the same. It looks at the decisions taken alongside the rainfall pattern, to better understand their selection of crops.

Kumbharwadi, located 45 km southwest in the Sangamner block of Ahmednagar district, is in the rain scarcity zone (average 500mm per annum)[3] of Maharashtra, which suffers regular droughts. The survey revealed that of the total 145 households in the village, 93 (64%) including 11 women headed households had modified their cropping pattern. 52 (36%) households had cultivated similar crops as in 2011.

Rainfall in Kumbharwadi: Data from the AWS at Darewadi village (at 2.5km distance) was the reference rainfall source. Rainfall in 2012 (287mm) was considerably less than in 2011 (450mm). Besides, the total annual rainfall, there was a drop in the number of days when rain fell 60 days in 2012, as compared with 86 days in 2011, with high variations and increase in gaps between two rainy days[4]. Of these, in 2012, there were 22 days when 2.5 mm or more rain fell as compared to 41 such rainy days in 2011.

Table1: Rainfall in Kumbharwadi[5] in 2011 and 2012

Rainfall in (mm)

Days & percentage

Year 2011

Year 2012

Total 

86 (100%)

60 (100%)

0.1-2.4

45(53%)

38 (63%)

2.5-4.9

15 (18%)

9 (15%)

5 to 9.9

12 (14%)

4 (7%)

10 to 19.9

4 (5%)

7 (12%)

20 to 29.9

7 (8%)

0 (0%)

30 to 50

2 (2%)

2 (3%) 

Results:

Crop Cultivation: Before implementation of the Indo-German Watershed Development programme in 1996, the annual cropping pattern in the village was mainly based on two food-grains - pearl millet (kharif) and sorghum (rabi) - with a little of moth bean, green gram, horse gram and sugarcane for fodder. A total of 325.5 ha of rainfed agriculture was taken, while a substantial area (66 hectares) lay fallow. Cultivation of wheat was unheard of. Post watershed development (WSD) from 2002 onwards, because of increased water levels cash crops, like wheat, tomato and onion were introduced.

In 2011 when the annual rainfall was 450 mm (near annual average), a total area of 414.75 ha was cultivated. Farmers settled for 15 different crops (Table2). In kharif pearl millet (40 ha) onion, tomato and soya were taken in large areas, while in rabi wheat (80 ha), sorghum (60 ha), onion and tomato were major crops. In summer, they grew tomato (10ha) and forage (25ha). Besides these, during the 3 seasons, they grew a little of 4 varieties of pulses and a little of vegetables. A couple of farmers had initiated pomegranate cultivation.

However, during the low rainfall (287mm) in 2012, extensive diversification of crops was observed across all 3 seasons, although the cropped area had reduced to 318.6ha (less than the pre-WSD period). Though the cultivated area was greatly reduced, 24 crops were cultivated. These included coarse cereals, pulses, vegetables, fodder crops, fruit trees and even fibre (cotton and sun hemp) Sorghum was the main crop cultivated on 142 ha, almost double that of 2011.

Table 2: Changes in Crops Cultivated in the Village over Periods

Crops

Area in hectares

1996 (Pre -WSD)

(rainfall 613 mm*

2011[6]

(rainfall 450mm

2012

(rainfall 287mm)

Cereals

Pearl Millet

168

40

79

Sorghum

149

60

142

Wheat

 

80

3

Pulses and Oils seeds

Moth bean

1

 

1

Green gram

2

1

3

Horse gram

2

 

0.30

Pigeon pea

 

5

15

Chickpea

 

5

8

Soya bean

 

10

0.22

Groundnut

 

 

2

Cash crops  and Vegetables

 Cabbage

 

 

0.44

Lady Finger

 

 

0.31

Onion

 

120

13

Tomato

 

50

6

Green Peas

 

2.81

1.5

Brinjal

 

0.53

 

Chilly

 

 

1.10

Cotton

 

 

2

Sun hemp

 

 

0.50

Fodder crops

Maize

 

10

23

 Forage

 

25

2

Carrot

 

 

0.21

Sugarcane (fodder)

3.5

2.32

5

Cash crops and Horticulture

Pomegranate

 

3.09

10

Mango

 

 

0.33

Total Cropped Area

325.5

414.75

318.6

* Source: IMD data - Rainfall for Sangamner block

Reasons of Crop Diversification:  Before implementing WSD in 1996, pearl millet (168 ha) in the kharif season, and sorghum (149 ha) in rabi, were the main crops and for household consumption (food and fodder) only. Post-WSD, as water was now available, farmers shifted to wheat, tomato and onion. The farmers’ perspectives regarding the reasons for their choices are captured below:

In Kharif:  In 2012, because of the low rainfall and delayed monsoons the familiar pearl millet (bajra) was cultivated on almost twice the area as compared to 2011. Being unsure about the possibility of taking 2 crops, farmers wanted at least an assured kharif crop. They wanted crops for household needs, besides income. Hence, together with bajra, they grew small amounts of moth bean, moong, soya, tomato and green peas. Farmers associate moong with the ‘bevad’ (crop rotation) system, for as they quoted, “following its cultivation in the kharif’ the rabi sorghum crop yield greatly increases”. A couple of farmers experimented with growing cotton and sun hemp. Sun hemp was cultivated by one farmer for green manure to enhance the water holding capacity of the soil. According to him, due to lack of timely rains, it was not ready for mulching, so he grew it for seed.

In Rabi: In 2012, sorghum was cultivated only for household consumption, as a little water was available. Jowar in 2012 would provide people with the staple food for humans and fodder for livestock. Farmers said, “fakt ek paus padla tari jwariche pik hamkhas, un jar paus nahich padala tari janavarana annachara hotoch”. (If there is just one rain after sowing, there will be some production of sorghum. In case the rains fail later, the production will be low, but it will provide fodder. Crop residue has a good market, too. With regard to wheat farmers shared, “panyachi ek pali, jari kami padali tari gavhache pik hatache jate (If we miss even one water-turn of irrigation, wheat production is seriously affected.) Minor changes in the temperature also affect wheat production.

Farmers had greatly reduced the area under tomato and onion cultivation, replacing these with pulses and oil seeds, besides jowar. They indicated that pigeon pea has a low water requirement, high market value and the residue is useful as fodder. Some farmers said that pigeon pea benefits from higher temperature as there are less pest attacks. Chickpea was cultivated on almost 8 hectares solely for home consumption. This also has a low water requirement. Where wheat requires 7-8 water round of irrigation, only 1 is required for a relatively good chickpea yield.

A few vegetable crops were introduced in small proportions, such as cabbage, lady finger and chillies, besides a little of onion and tomato. These were for home use as well as for the market.

Summer crops and horticulture: The higher cash income from summer crops attracted a couple of progressive farmers. A few other farmers followed them. However, as onion and tomato are water intensive, the area under cultivation was minimal. Instead they grew forage and fodder (maize, carrot and sugarcane). Maize cultivation was greatly increased from 10 ha. to 23 ha. Horticulture which was completely absent in the pre-WSD period has been initiated. The area of pomegranate plantation was increased to 10 ha in 2012, despite the low rainfall. The reason given is that in addition to its high market demand, when drip irrigated, it requires less water and is also more temperature tolerant. Besides, cultivation of pomegranate is less labour intensive as compared to other crops, which is important for farmers. Mango plantation was introduced on 0.33 ha. Between the 3 farmers who have horticulture and summer agriculture, they invested Rs 80,000/- in total, to obtain water (50 tankers) for the fruiting pomegranate plantation. 

Livestock population comprises of a large number (156) of cross-breed cows, with a daily milk production of an average 500 litres per day. This summer, due to the drought conditions, production had reduced to approximately 350 litres per day. Farmers stated that since milk yield is reduced in higher temperatures, they bathed the cows more frequently, which helped increase milk production. As livestock (milch cattle in particular) bring in good income, fodder cultivation is necessary.  To meet the green fodder needs for livestock, maize and forage (Ghas (leucen grass) and Kadaval a local variety of sorghum were cultivated. Forage cultivation requires water throughout the year, whereas water requirement for maize is low. Area under maize cultivation was greatly increased (more than double) in 2012, while forage cultivation was minimal. Sugarcane and carrot (recently introduced) was cultivated on 5 ha and 0.2 ha respectively which according to farmers, when used as green fodder it increases milk production.

Household food security was given priority in view of the uncertainties in production. Some farmers said that the purchasing food grain and fodder was more costly than having home grown products. 

Purpose of crop production: Table 3 gives the details of use of farm produce in selected representative sample of farmers.  Of the farmers who cultivated cereals, all cultivated these solely for home consumption. Of those who grow pulses, the produce of pigeon pea and moth bean was for home consumption and the little excess was sold. The total soya bean produce was for the market, whereas all the groundnut produce was for home consumption.

Table 3: Distribution of farm produce for Home Consumption and Market

Crop

Farmers (No.)*

Area  (ha.)

Total Production

(Kg)

Home consumption & kept as  seed (Kg)

Market (Kg)

Cereals

Pearl millet

13

1.58

5800

5800

0

Sorghum

14

2.04

440

440

0

Wheat

5

0.88

400

400

0

Pulses and Oil seeds

Moth bean

4

0.60

25

25

0

Moong

5

0.50

400

200

200

Soya bean

1

0.10

80

0

80

Pigeon pea

18

3.63

3370

860

2510

Groundnut

3

1.45

200(nuts)

200

0

Chickpea

5

1.09

175

175

0

Cash crops and Vegetables

Cabbage

1

0.29

100

10

90

Lady Finger

4

0.10

200

5

195

Onion

11

1.83

2100

340

1760

Tomato

10

2.33

44400

100

44300

Greens peas

3

0.40

125

0

125

Chillies

9

0.90

310

60

250

Cotton

5

0.89

1280

0

1280

Sun hemp

1

0.19

400

25

375

*Representative farmers were included for interviews

All farmers who were interviewed and farmers who cultivated either vegetables or edible cash crops in 2012, had retained sufficient quantities of these crops for home consumption. Those who experimentally grew cotton had a good sale of Rs.4000/- per quintal in a nearby market. Sale of the sun hemp seed too brought in income. Thus crop diversification during this drought year ensured food and nutritional security and also brought income into the village.

Lessons Drawn:

Watershed development has proven beneficial, for despite poor rainfall, the crops taken in Kumbharwadi particularly during the kharif, had relatively good produce.  Water availability in this scarcity zone since WSD, has built the confidence of the farmers and encouraged them to experiment, however cautiously, in agriculture.

During the drought year, there were 24 crops grown, although in small quantities as compared to the previous year of normal rainfall. During the drought year too, farmers reverted to the traditionally known crops, besides, these which are suited to the agro-climatic zone.

Food security and household needs (fodder) were given priority. Even in stressed conditions, farmers seek and need a source of income, besides meeting household needs. However, farmers who had invested in horticulture, were compelled to purchase water to drip irrigate the fruiting pomegranate. They considered purchasing water an investment, as this fruit generally fetches a good price and much more so in a drought year. (3 farmers earned total net benefit of Rs.40000).

Conclusion:

The benefits of watershed development - water availability and land productivity – cannot but be highlighted. It contributes greatly towards enhancing the risk taking willingness of farmers. The eagerness of the Kumbharwadi farmers to learn and experiment even in a drought year has shown their ability to make calculated decisions. When agro-advisories and guidance in sustainable agriculture methodologies is provided, these would contribute greatly to building farmers resilience in the face of extreme weather variations, preparing them to adapt to climate change.

For further information please contact:

Eshwer Kale (eshwer.kale@wotr.org.in),

Marcella D’Souza (marcella.dsouza@gmail.com


Farmer showing pomegranate trees


Onion seed cultivation in Kumbharwadi

Further resources

[1] Data source IMD Rainfall of Sangamner

[2] WOTR’s in-house GIS study of crop mapping

[4] A rainy day is when the rainfall is 2.5mm or more

[5] Data recorded at Darewadi weather station, around  2.5 km distance from Kumbharwadi

[6] Area under crops in 2011 was gathered from hamlet-wise group discussions with farmers.