By the time the rabi sowing season for 2009 is over, farming households in the 252 districts declared affected by drought will be further encircled by systems and frameworks over which they have little or no control. This will happen because administrative India is wedded to “area increase and productivity enhancement in targeted districts” as a primary aim. Rural livelihoods are a by-product.
At the end of July 2009 the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Parliament, was informed by the ministry of agriculture that the “average growth of estimated production of foodgrains in the country during 2004-05 to 2008-09 was 1.98% [per year], which is higher than the average rate of growth of 1.50% [per year] in the population of the country during the same period”. That statement was provided by K V Thomas, minister of state for agriculture, consumer affairs, food and public distribution, on July 31, 2009.
A month later, Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee talked about the monsoon deficit, a condition that became apparent in mid-July. “From the picture of sowing, one can easily estimate that there is likelihood of a shortfall to the extent of 15-20%,” he said on August 28. “Drought is there, rainfall deficiency is to the extent of 26%.”
Drought was indeed there. At the end of August 2009, 252 districts in ten states (out of 604 districts) were declared affected by drought (see Fig 1), which is a concern for the ministry of finance as much as it is for the ministry of agriculture, for this is when emergency money must be mobilised through a variety of schemes and programmes, and when subsidies are invoked.
Only ten days before Mukherjee’s blunt assessment, Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar had talked about rabi (winter) crop for 2009 — the focus had already shifted from kharif 2009 and the damage being done to it by an erratic monsoon. “I anticipate early and higher coverage of rabi crops this year. This is a good opportunity to ensure that the wheat is sown in time particularly in Eastern UP, Bihar and West Bengal,” he said. “There is a need to take up an intensive campaign in the Eastern region for ensuring that the farmers are able to sow their wheat in time by November 15.” It was then that he came to the kharif 2009 question. “This would cover up the likely kharif production losses to some extent.”
That statement delivered three alarming indicators. One, the ministry of agriculture is still disconnecting food availability from crop production (estimated or real). Two, in August, the ministry of environment and forests had stated in its State of Environment Report India 2009: “Despite fast expansion of the area under cultivation, less agricultural land is available on per capita basis.” The immediate corollary — that less per capita agricultural land can lead only to less food grown, since yields have plateaued — did not trouble the ministry of agriculture. Three, by end-June, in all quarters, there was already concern that the 2009 monsoon could be as bad as the monsoon failure of 2002. But the ministry comforted itself with numbers: “The total demand of foodgrains for 2008-09 has been estimated at 219.01 million tonnes against estimated production of 233.88 million tonnes.”
Taking a monsoon’s measure
The ministry of agriculture waited until the third week of August 2009 to make its first clear statement about the spreading drought conditions and its impact on monsoon sowing. It did this by informing states about “the support being given towards promoting alternative crops in areas where no sowing could take place due to deficient rainfall”. States with drought-affected districts were told that alternative crops must be promoted, such as toria, pulses, sunflower, bajra, or fodder and vegetables. State agriculture departments were quickly issued orders to ensure that the seeds necessary for such “alternative” crops and “other inputs” could “reach the farmers”.
Why did the reaction from the Union government come so late? What role did the data and monsoon assessment of the India Meteorological Department (IMD) play in the misjudging of the monsoon? An understanding of the manner in which data is used, how it is interpreted and when helps answer these questions.
In what is called the ‘first stage forecast’ which the IMD makes for the monsoon, delivered this year on April 17, 2009, the Met department placed aggregate rainfall for the season at 96% of the ‘long period average’, which meant a ‘near normal’ monsoon. On June 24, the IMD released its ‘second stage forecast’ in which it said the total rainfall during the monsoon season (June to September) would be 93% of the ‘long period average’.
That announcement came in the run-up to the Union Budget 2009-10, and introduced an unwanted element into the financial stimulus package that had been prepared by the Congress-led UPA government. The reaction from the money and commodity markets to the downgraded monsoon was that if the coming weeks unfolded in the way the IMD predicted (1) there would be an impact on GDP, perhaps even up to 1%, and an impact on inflation; (2) the Union government would need to find more resources to add to its stimulus package; (3) India would need to import more sugar, said the Indian Sugar Mills Association, a private producers’ group, for in response to the Indian monsoon forecast the New York raw sugar futures index jumped to a three-year high; and (4) some food crops, spices and commercial crop futures (soybean, soyoil, wheat, channa, guar, turmeric, jeera and pepper) began trading at higher levels on the National Commodity and Derivatives Exchange.
IMD relies on confirmations and parallel data gathering and analysis work done by seven other Indian weather and climate observation institutes, including the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune; the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore; Space Applications Centre (SAC), Ahmedabad, and seven international institutes, including the World Meteorological Organisation’s Lead Centre for Long Range Forecasting, Multi-Model Ensemble (LRFMME); the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP), USA and the Meteorological Office, UK.
The IMD therefore has a large group of monsoon researchers to confirm data and trends with. Even so, it was unable to do better than release a ‘second stage forecast’ as late as June 24, when the unusual delay in the monsoon breaking over peninsula India had already become a cause for worry on the ground.
The IMD’s ability to work with the data it has, or is available to it, was shown up as being deplorably deficient by a simple, and startlingly accurate, exercise carried out by R N Iyengar (of the Centre for Disaster Mitigation, Jain Group of Institutions, Bangalore) and S T G Raghukanth (Department of Civil Engineering, IIT-Madras, Chennai). They used the publicly available long-term average (1871-2006) data compiled by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology to show that the possibility of monsoon 2009 rainfall being less than the long-term average was 95%.
They had done the data analysis and their short but important note had already been published in the journal, Current Science, in its July 10, 2009 issue. “According to our analysis, the year 2009 will not be a severe drought year like 2002, but would receive less rainfall than the near normal year 2005,” wrote Iyengar and Raghukanth. “As is well-known, even when all-India rainfall is nearly normal, there can be droughts and floods in various districts of the country.”
Telltale commodity indices
It is well-known that agricultural commodity markets are zealous gatherers of product and trend information, as soon as it is available, and from wherever it becomes available. Data from the Forward Markets Commission on agricultural commodity trade values show that from March 2009 onwards, total fortnightly trade in Indian commodity and futures exchanges began touching the Rs 35,000 crore mark, a level it had reached and crossed in the first quarter of 2008 when the global food price crisis was raging (See Fig 2). This upward trend is the surest indicator that a new round of food price increases has begun to grip India. The two indices of the National Commodity & Derivatives Exchange Limited that reflect agricultural commodity trading movement, the NCDEXAGRI and FUTEXAGRI, also follow this trend.
When the Union government did respond to the growing roll-call of districts being declared drought-affected, it came in the form of a detailed to-do list of central and state responsibilities that was drawn up for the August 21 state agriculture ministers’ meeting. The overview statement that emerged from the meeting displayed yet again that administrative India is wedded to agricultural production as a primary aim, with rural livelihoods which depend on agriculture being merely a by-product, and that it sees farmers and cultivator households as factors of production.
“The call of the hour is for every government agency to focus its attention on the measures that can be adopted for drought mitigation; maximising production from the standing kharif crops, and prepare for additional production and higher productivity in rabi 2009,” the statement announced portentously. The agriculture ministry statement only then added: “As a result of loss of production during kharif 2009 and drought in a large number of districts, it is essential that both the central government and the state governments immediately put in place action plans to ameliorate the adverse impact on farmers’ income and livelihood and ensure relief measure such as provision for drinking water, food and fodder for animals, employment generation and gratuitous relief for the needy in distressed areas.”
How will these relief measures be organised and who will take responsibility to deliver them to those who need it most? For the remainder of the year, the responsibilities are divided between the Union government and state governments, as has been agreed upon at the meeting.
Major points of action to be taken by the central government:
(1) Draw up a plan for large-scale sinking of shallow tubewells, involving NABARD (National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development) loans and an element of subsidy for the farmers in those drought-affected districts which “are amenable to exploitation of groundwater”.
(2) As farmers’ needs in late kharif, pre-rabi and rabi 2009 will be for seeds, the National Seeds Corporation and State Farms Corporation of India are to ensure that seeds for crops are available to state governments.
(3) Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) and other ICAR institutions in the states are to assist state governments in preparing advisories for farmers about crop varieties, alternative crops, pest surveillance and pesticide use, and nutrient requirement.
(4) Depending upon availability of surplus power, the Union Government is to provide additional power from the Central Pool to states for irrigation.
(5) The availability of fertilisers is to be ensured to all states.
Major points of action to be taken by state governments:
(1) Keep spurious seeds out of markets (pesticide manufacturers and distributors to cooperate). Organise seed treatment campaigns to boost productivity.
(2) Ensure that the funds available through central assistance in schemes be fully utilised in 2009-10. Ensure that funds under these schemes are used for production and productivity increases, restoring of water bodies, soil moisture conservation and micro-irrigation.
(3) Plan with fertiliser companies to move fertilisers to districts based on allocations fixed by the Department of Fertiliser.
(4) Use funds available from the Department of Drinking Water Supply for addition of new drinking water sources and repair of existing ones.
(5) In collaboration with NABARD, issue additional Kisan Credit Cards, arrange for agriculture loans for shallow tubewells and short-term credit.
Many of these points reveal the dominance of short-term crisis mitigation over long-term crop stability and the building of resilience in rural communities. Tubewells, groundwater, distribution of ‘authorised’ seeds only, loans for tubewells, crop advisories that promise to be more of the same from a system (the Krishi Vigyan Kendras) which is desperately in need of reform and re-education, the empty promise of more power (where will it possibly come from when even with full reservoirs India is heavily power deficit?) to move water for irrigation (where is this water to be found when groundwater extraction rates in northern and north-west India are already amongst the highest in the world?), the dependence on still more flows of NPK (industrial fertiliser — nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium).
The signs all point to a crisis to-do list that has little to do with how the farming household sees the drought, and what it needs to get through the drought of 2009. The remedies contained in these two lists of responsibilities will, by the time rabi 2009 is over, further encircle the farming households of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand with systems and frameworks over which they have little or no control.
Dearer food for food producers
Already they are beset by the prices of basic foods. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) numbers for Agricultural and Rural Labourers show the rate of increase. From January 2007 to June 2009, the CPI for agricultural labour rose by 30.2% in Haryana, 29.7% in Manipur, 29.1% in Karnataka, 26.4% in Tamil Nadu, 25.9% in Andhra Pradesh, 25.9% in Madhya Pradesh, 25.8% in Orissa, 25.7% in Rajasthan, 25.6% in Punjab and 24.6% in Assam (See Fig 3).
“The deficient monsoon is having an increasing adverse impact on the prices of food articles and other essential commodities,” said the ministry of agriculture. “In particular, the high prices of pulses, vegetables and sugar have caused considerable hardship to the people. Every effort has to be taken to contain and moderate this price increase. In the case of sugar we have already allowed zero duty import for raw and refined sugar to boost availability. For pulses too, our attempt has been to increase imports and thus increase availability. Zero duty import of pulses has been extended upto March 2010.”
Yet, the sowing areas of arhar, urad and moong, as recorded by the ministry on September 3, were 103%, 106% and 106% respectively of their sown area in September 2008, with 3,298,000 hectares (ha), 2,107,000 ha and 2,333,000 ha reported as having been sown with these crops. According to the same bulletin, sugarcane has been sown in 97% of the area it was sown in at the same time last year. This seems to lead to a contradiction – therefore the question: is the data coming out of the drought-hit districts reliable? If it is, and cultivable land has been sown as claimed, then the price reaction would not be so severe. If it is not, as the agri-commodity markets indicate (supported by the CPI rise), then the data is incorrect.
No more than a week earlier, however, on August 26, there were 120 districts in India for which the cumulative monsoon rainfall was 50% or less. These districts are overwhelmingly in north-west, north, central and eastern India: Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. The monsoon revival that the country experienced from August 24-25 will help water stocks in these districts, but will do little to mitigate the impact of the mid-monsoon dry phase that has caused so much damage.
In mandis and rural provision stores – and especially for agricultural labour – the immediate impact of the poor rainfall will be on major kharif crops grown in these states: Himachal Pradesh (rice and vegetables), Uttarakhand (rice, soyabean, groundnut, tur, mung, sesame), Punjab (rice, maize, guar, til, urad, bajra, cowpea, cotton), Haryana (rice, maize, guar, bajra, cotton), East Uttar Pradesh (rice, mung, jowar, bajra), West Uttar Pradesh (rice, groundnut, urad, mung and vegetables), East Rajasthan (cowpea, bajra, maize), West Rajasthan (pearl millet, sorghum, maize, cluster bean, sesame, pigeonpea, groundnut), Jharkhand (maize, arhar, til, ragi, vegetables), Madhya Pradesh (rice, jowar, sunflower, maize, and soybean) and Chhattisgarh (rice, soybean, maize, sesame, tur). How reliable therefore are the weekly ‘kharif sown area’ bulletins? Can they be independently verified? Is the movement of the agricultural commodity indices an indication of their unreliability? What do the import concessions (zero import duty) for pulses, sugar, crude edible oils and maize tell us? These are questions that the market can answer, but which the ministry prefers not to.
One indication comes directly from the agriculture minister. “I must underline the fact that availability of pulses this year is only marginally less than last year and the spurt cannot be explained just in terms of the supply-demand gap,” said Pawar, in a ministry briefing. “Speculative tendencies in the market have fuelled these prices and it is therefore imperative that the state governments make judicious use of their powers under the Essential Commodities Act.”
The global-local food price connection
The Economic Research Service (ERS) of the United States Department of Agriculture, that guides the US’s grain exports decisions, had delivered a warning in its August 2009 outlook: “The latest long-term food security outlook analysis shows that developing countries that will be hardest hit by the global economic crisis are those with high levels of balance of payments deficits [such as India] and high food import dependency. ERS estimates that there will be a 2% increase in the number of food-insecure people in 2009. Results indicate the number of food-insecure people would rise by 12% from the baseline in 2009.”
What baseline will we have at the end of the kharif season in 2009 (usually around October-November)? The food stock position on July 1, 2009 was 19,616,000 tonnes of rice, 32,922,000 tonnes of wheat and 645,000 tonnes of coarse grains. The present monthly allocations of rice and wheat under the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) and other welfare schemes are 2,321,000 tonnes of rice and 1,834,000 tonnes of wheat. What else will the Union Government, together with the state governments, hope to achieve?
Under the National Food Security Mission (NFSM), by the end of the Eleventh Plan (2011-12), the production of rice is to be increased by 10 million tonnes, wheat by 8 million tonnes and pulses by 2 million tonnes through what the ministry calls “area increase and productivity enhancement in targeted districts”. The Integrated Cereals Development Programme (ICDP) is supposed to “provide more flexibility to states based on local needs”. The Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana is seen as being able to “incentivise the states to increase investment in agriculture and allied sectors”. Finally, an “enhancement in the minimum support price of wheat and rice” is to lead to “incentivisation for higher production”.
Contrast this central-control approach to drought management with the advice and practice of an institution that knows well what drought means. On August 13, the Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA) released a short and direct note on ‘Contingency Measures to Cope with Impending Drought Situation’. This is what it said, with specific reference to Andhra Pradesh: “The Telangana and Rayalaseema regions of Andhra Pradesh are experiencing one of the worst droughts in the recent past. The deficit of rainfall during June and July was more than 60% and sowings (sorghum, pigeonpea, maize and castor) undertaken after the early rains have started wilting. The main sowing window for major kharif crops is almost closed. If at all there is hope, it will only commence once it starts raining.”
CRIDA has drawn up a drought response plan which is as suited to the areas in which it works, as the ministry of agriculture’s is imbalanced nationally. The CRIDA plan lists a few important methods which interlink water saving, livestock and sharing:
* farmers to be discouraged from taking up water-demanding crops like paddy and encouraged to save groundwater for providing life saving irrigation to the existing rainfed crops;
* seeds of fodder and low water requiring pulses like horsegram have been procured and dispatched to all clusters in which the institute works;
* common land in public or private domain is being identified to take up fodder crops while borewell owners are being persuaded to share the water with neighbouring farmers to save crops;
* livestock raising to be given importance (particularly small ruminants), while livestock owners are encouraged to supplement feed with loppings of subabul and other fodder trees;
* landless labourers are mobilised to participate in NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) by coordinating with block and district level officers.
Dryland lessons make a difference
The contrast with the central ‘production’, ‘fertiliser’, ‘loan and credit’ and ‘mission’ prescription could not be starker. Concerning the destructive obsession with fertiliser, the ‘State of Environment Report India 2009’ observed: “Per hectare consumption of fertilisers has increased from 69.8 kg in 1991-92 to 113.3 kg in 2006-07. There is excessive use of urea and a bias against micronutrients.”
Using participatory action research to develop livelihoods models, CRIDA’s ‘Sustainable Rural Livelihoods through Enhanced Farming Systems Productivity and Efficient Support Systems in Rainfed Areas’ is used in eight backward districts of Andhra Pradesh: Adilabad, Anantapur, Kadapa, Khammam, Mahabubnagar, Nalgonda, Rangareddy and Warangal.
“Water harvesting through farm ponds and its recycling for increasing cropping intensity was taken as an important intervention,” explained Sreenath Dixit and B Venkateswarlu of CRIDA. “The project located and designed farm ponds based on a careful analysis of rainfall and runoff potential, simultaneously undertaking capacity building of the project staff and village watershed committees. We involved the District Water Management Agency that is in charge of the NREGA programme in the state from the beginning, ensuring that natural resource management activities are included in works of the panchayats.”
This approach is consistent with the findings of international research during the nineties, which highlighted the complexity of tackling rural poverty in rapidly changing liberalised economies. It is now widely recognised that anti-poverty programmes have to be focused on livelihoods of the poor at household level. That means mere improvement of the natural resource base in a watershed, higher crop yields or providing an income generating asset or a short-term employment to the poor household will not lead to sustainable income and nutritional security for people. Issues of access to resources, capacity building, maintenance of assets and creation of an enabling environment must also be tackled.
The experience of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Andhra Pradesh’s Mahbubnagar district underlines why this approach works at all times and is vital during crises such as droughts. “It’s clear that in combination with a rural learning programme, simple techniques can be useful in improving community-level drought vulnerability assessment,” said Dr V Balaji of ICRISAT’s Knowledge Management and Sharing Group. “It is important to give the community a stake in monitoring critical data such as daily rainfall and their ability to manage this process greatly adds to the value of the overall project for vulnerability assessment and preparedness.”
The ICRISAT group (Balaji and colleagues G Sreedhar and V Ramnaresh Kumar, together with R Nagarajan of the Centre for Studies in Resource Engineering, IIT-Bombay) developed a geographic information system-based (GIS) vulnerability mapping system in the Adakkal mandal (block) of the district. The study was conducted in partnership with the Adarsha Mahila Samaikhya, a federation of all-women self-help groups with a membership of 6,300 from 21 villages in the mandal. “From the pilot experiment in 2007 that covered 12 villages, we found that the maps were indeed useful for the rural families in drought-related decision making,” said Balaji. “In 2008 the study covered all the 21 villages of Addakal mandal. A field survey evaluated the usefulness of the maps. Our assessment was that 18 out of 21 villages faced vulnerability in terms of significant surface water shortages and it turned out that all 18 did face serious scarcity of water for agricultural production and livestock.”
|Trend in per capita direct consumption of|
|cereals and pulses as food, kg/year|
|Commodity||1973-74||1983||1993-94||2004-05||2011-12 #||2020-21 #|
|C. Rural + Urban|
|Rice also includes rice products like ‘chira’, ‘khoi’, ‘lawa’, ‘muri’, rice powder etc.|
|Wheat also includes ‘maida’, ‘suji’, ‘rawa’, ‘sewai’, noodle, bread|
|Source : NSSO, Household Consumption of Various Goods and Services In India, and related reports for different rounds.
Their work established that in villages which on the GIS maps were marked as vulnerable, crop yield loss upto 60% was reported while the depletion of groundwater forced most pumps there to go dry. Specific advisories to shift to cultivation of dryland crops such as castor or pigeonpea were not heeded generally because of the low prices such crops would fetch in the market. In one village in which farmers cultivated only 60% of the cropping area, following the advisory, they were able to avoid serious yield losses. “The prediction of drought is difficult as its development is very slow,” said Balaji. “International experience shows that preparedness is often more effective than relief. Information is the backbone of drought preparedness.”
A solution beyond NREGA needed
The central government’s turning to the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) as a means of lessening the impact of drought in the 252 districts is strategically sound, but only for the short term. New strategies are needed that respond to the daunting challenges posed by climate change, water scarcity, the decline of petroleum-based energy, biodiversity loss, and persistent food insecurity in growing populations. A narrowly-focused ‘seed and fertiliser’ campaign geared towards meeting the APY (area, production, yield) doctrine will not avert recurrent food crises under these conditions. Current models of intensive production are already unaffordable when reckoned in real prices and when real costs (social and environmental) are counted.
The availability of foodgrain is a problem that has become more pronounced with every season of normal monsoon, and which will certainly intensify in a drought year (See Table). Official estimates of net availability of foodgrains for human consumption shows a decline in both rural as well as urban areas. At an all-India level, per capita consumption of cereals declined from 154.24 kg per capita during 1973-74 to 132.58 kg per capita during 2004-05. Disaggregated data shows that the per cent decline was much larger for coarse cereals as compared to rice and wheat.
Dr Ramesh Chand, ICAR National Professor, National Centre for Agricultural Economics and Policy Research (NCAP) in his assessment ‘Demand for Foodgrains During 11th Plan and Towards 2020 (2009)’, says that “per capita direct demand for rice in rural areas, which declined from 85.41 kg during 1993-94, to 79.68 kg during 2004-05, is projected to further decline to 76.7 kg by 2011-12 and 73.37 kg by 2020-21. Per capita demand for wheat is projected to follow a very small decrease as compared to rice and coarse cereals. For the country as a whole, per capita consumption of cereals is projected to decline to 132.6 kg and 125 kg by 2011-12 and 2020-21.”
With what confidence do we proceed into rabi 2009, with the kharif for this year forsaken by a monsoon that grows more capricious with every year? There is, in a sentence written almost 130 years ago, much sensible advice: “Some have been forgotten altogether, because the object of Indian historians was generally to record the fortunes of a dynasty rather than the condition of a people” – this is from ‘Report of the India Famine Commission’, 1880. Quite apart from the severe stresses of drought, the food crisis that exploded in 2007-8 has not gone away. It is tightening its hold in India and if we examine the malign convergence of wholesale and consumer price indices (WPI and CPI) and the evidence from the commodity exchanges, new food price hikes are upon us. A year after the food crisis, much less has been done to address it than was asked for by those whose histories are not written. Even so, there is an opportunity for government to bring farmers and social organisations into a planning process that can achieve some plurality of thinking and genuine solutions.