Q) “Even though India has many dams, rivers to provide irrigation to the fields, farmer suicides are a never-ending problem especially in dry land farming areas.” Elucidate why water scarcity is high in India and the government steps toward it. (250 words)
Water scarcity is the lack of sufficient available water resources to meet the demands of water usage within a region. The water scarcity is mostly man made due to excess population growth and mismanagement of water resources.
Reasons behind water scarcity are: A deficiency in monsoon rainfall for two successive years resulted in serious water shortages in many states
Inefficient use of water for agriculture:
o Consumption of water for irrigation is amongst the highest.
o Traditional techniques of irrigation cause maximum water loss due to evaporation, drainage, percolation, water conveyance, and excess use of groundwater. As more areas come under traditional irrigation techniques, the stress for water available for other purposes will continue.
- Excessive cultivation of water-intensive crops such as rice, wheat and sugar cane has exacerbated the water scarcity. As much as 70% of water delivered through India’s limited irrigation infrastructure goes to water sugar cane fields in some states.
- Massive deforestation since the 1990s has had a huge bearing on the South Asian monsoon, causing an 18% decline in precipitation over India.
- Rain water harvesting is patchy in India so much of the huge amount of water dumped on the country during the monsoon every year just dries up or flows into the ocean.
- Government’s Policies are also to blame for the country’s chronic water issues. Its subsidies and price supports encourage the overuse of water while it continues to fail to build the nationwide network needed to conserve and distribute water.
- Reduction in traditional water recharging areas. Rapid construction is ignoring traditional water bodies that have also acted as ground water recharging mechanisms.
- Sewage and wastewater drainage into traditional water bodies: Release of chemicals and effluents into rivers, streams and ponds.
- Lack of on-time de-silting operations in large water bodies that can enhance water storage capacity during monsoon.
- Lack of efficient water management and distribution of water between urban consumers, the agriculture sector and industry.
- The problem has been compounded with increased concretization due to urban development that has choked ground water resources.
Why are there more farmers’ suicides in dry farming areas?
- Dependence of farmers in Marathwada and other areas on water-guzzling cash crops such as sugarcane has been cited as one of the reasons for the distress
- In Karnataka increased compensation to the next of kin of farmers who commit suicide have been cited as reasons for the spike in suicide rate in the state
- In places like Vidharbha which is home for approximately 3. 4 million cotton farmers and 95% of these are struggling with the massive debt.
- Majority of suicide cases are from cotton growing areas. The cotton farmers in India pay more prices for inputs like seeds, pesticides, fertilizers, electricity, water, and labor whereas the price of cotton has gone down along with decreased productivity.
- Absence of adequate social support infrastructure at the level of the village and district
- Since a long time, Indian farmers have been facing a number of socioeconomic problems, such as harassment by moneylenders, inability to repay debts following crop loss, inability to get medical treatment for the family, etc. The problem is compounded by lack of positive and cooperative support from banks especially in the face of inclement weather and market fluctuations.
- In Maharashtra the reasons for such a pathetic state of farmers include below average rainfall, heavy load-shedding, lack of small irrigation projects, poverty, pressure of private money lenders and banks.
- The promotion of Bt-cotton since 2006 has, however, increased the capital cost incurred on cotton production exponentially.
- Imbalance in water distribution is part of the policy neglect the region has been facing from the ruling political classes.
- The ground reality is that the majority of the farmers in India own as little as two acres of land. Cultivation in such a small area is not economically feasible. Such small farmers have become vulnerable.
- Inadequate storage facilities:
- ASSOCHAM estimates that each year 30-40% of the entire agricultural produce in India is damaged because there are not enough cold storages. In monetary terms, this translates to INR 35, 000 crore
- Most of the subsidies and welfare schemes announced by the Central and State governments do not reach the poor farmers. On the contrary, only big landlords are benefited by those schemes
Measures needed are:
- Urgent need for increased public awareness among farmers regarding agricultural policies both financial and those extended by the government.
- Marketing and storage infrastructure will have to be built.
- New crop patterns that answer to emerging needs will have to be introduced.
- Better rural credit delivery system will have to be evolved.
- Self-help groups need to be encouraged.
- The government should promote the plan called “ulavar santhai” (Farmers Market), where the farmers can directly sell their products at reasonable price to theconsumers.
- Need to implement strict measures to prevent land grabbing.
- Multiple crops
- Cultivation of multi crops such as coconut, turmeric, pine apple, banana, apple, papaya, ginger will yield profitable results to the farmers.
- Special agricultural zone
- Just like industrial zone, there is an urgent need to establish special agricultural zones, where only farming and agriculture related activity should be allowed.
- Need to modernize agriculture
- By introducing farm techniques which guarantee a definite success, an increase in youth participation on agricultural fields is economically possible.
This can be attained only by implementing new technologies. Research efforts should continue for the production of crops with higher yield potential and better resistance to pests.
- Technological advancement in agriculture should be passed down to the small farmers.
- Need for meaningful crop insurance policies
o Crop insurance is must and the claim should be settled easily under the supervision of the district collectors.
- In most cases, it is not the lack of water but the lack of proper water management that causes water shortage. Improved modern methods of rain water harvesting should be developed.
- Alternate source of income for farmers
- Small farmers should be encouraged to develop alternative sources of income and the government should take up the responsibility for providing training to the farmers to acquire new skills.
- In drought affected areas, the government should start alternative employment generation programs to reduce the dependence on agriculture as the sole source of income. Such programs should be standardized.