Goals and Strategies
In order to minimize the disparities in incomes of farmers in irrigated and rainfed areas, there is an urgent need to improve the household income of farmers in dryland either through improved productivity or higher profitability through farm level value addition, or providing off farm employment opportunities; to minimize risk through crop and livestock insurance. A multi pronged strategy of adopting new technologies, creation of enabling mechanisms for the farmers to absorb improved technologies and sustain them, investments on infrastructure and appropriate policy initiatives is called for in a mission mode approach. Important issues that need focused attention are summarized.
Watershed development continues to be the key strategy in rainfed farming. Rainwater conservation, improved crop production technologies and income generating options for landless are integrated into the watershed programmes. Despite the huge effort by various ministries, the self replication of this approach still remains a challenge. The returns from water conservation technologies depend on the amount and distribution of rainfall and the end use of harvested water. For eg. in relatively high rainfall areas of eastern India, water harvesting and recycling was successfully demonstrated on an operational scale under the National Agricultural Technology Project (NATP). Within 3 years the entire cost on capital expenditure could be recovered and rainfed rice could be saved from severe drought during kharif 2002 (NATP, 2005). While watershed approach is an accepted strategy, it has to be region specific. For example, areas like deccan plateau, fragile coastal rainfed areas, saline patches and large parts of Indo Gangetic plains require a significant modification of the conventional ridge to valley approach (Samra, 2005). A meta analysis 311 pilot watersheds across India (Joshi et al., 2005) revealed that crop based farming systems are more relevant in 700 to 1100 mm rainfall zone, livestock based activities in <700 mm zone and fish based production systems in >1100 mm regions (Reference). Overall, watershed projects gave a BC ratio of 2.41, IRR of 22% and employment generation of 181 persons/ha/year. Higher benefits were realized by low income group farmers.
In low rainfall semi arid and arid areas, in situ moisture conservation is of extreme importance. Simple practices like ridges and furrows, conservation furrows and compartmental bunding have improved yields between 25-40%. Significant gains in productivity and income from these areas can not come from any revolutionary adoption of new technology which gives quantum jump in yield, but from wider adoption of low cost but proven technologies which may individually cause small improvements but translate in to larger gains at the national level. However, to encourage individual farmers to adopt these practices, such conservation practices may be included in the national rural employment guarantee scheme (NREGS) so that the incentive of wage alone could catalyze its wider adoption.