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Unirrigated Agriculture : Problems and Prospects

A. Gayathri & P. Veerachamy


This paper examines the problems and prospects of unirrigated agriculture in Tamil Nadu. Agriculture continues to be the main economic activity in rural areas of the developing world in spite of a steady diversification of their economic base during the preceeding decades. Likewise, agriculture is the backbone of the rural India and the largest industry in the country. The role of agriculture is important in terms of food security, international trade and economic development. India ranks first among the countries that practice unirrigated agriculture both in terms of extent and value of production, India has 143 million hectares of agricultural land and about 108 million hectares are unirrigated area, which constitutes nearly 75% of the total land (Kumar et al, 2009). Unirrigated agriculture is largely practiced in arid, semi arid and subhumid regions of our country. With about 68% of rural population, these regions are also home to 81% of rural poor (Rao et al., 2005). In such areas, crop production has become difficult as the intensity and frequency of rainfall is low.

The unirrigated agriculture refers to crop production in a farming system which depends entirely on rainfall but may include supplementary irrigation from small dams or tanks fed from rainfall and associated run off on a particular land holding. However, all unirrigated areas are not of the same characteristics. Unirrigated areas are highly diverse, ranging from assured rainfall and resource rich areas with good agricultural potential to erratic rainfall and resource poor areas with much more restricted potential. Some resource rich unirrigated areas potentially are highly productive and already have experienced widespread adoption of improved seeds. In drier, less favorable areas, on the other hand, productivity growth has lagged behind, and there is widespread poverty and degradation of natural resources (Bhatia, 2005). However, nearly 50% of the total food grains are grown under unirrigated agriculture and millions of rural poor depend on unirrigated agriculture. In addition, 85% of the cereals, 83% of the pulses, 70% of the oilseeds and

65% of the cotton are predominant unirrigated crops grown in India. Nearly 50% of the total rural workface and 60% of livestock in the country depend on unirrigated agriculture (CRIDA, 2011). It emphasizes the crucial role played by unirrigated agriculture in food security and livelihood of the rural households.

By considering the above facts, the policy makers given much importance to the unirrigated agriculture in order to meet the rising demand for food, basic staples, non food grains, and exports. At the same time, the productivity of irrigated land is being utilized at the maximum level. The growth in total factor productivity in irrigated agriculture has declined slightly in major crops (Singh and Rathore, 2010). As a result, the opportunity for continued expansion of irrigated agriculture is limited and the need for Unirrigated agriculture has always been an important part of the agricultural sector. However, the state of unirrigated agriculture is precarious and the problems associated with it are multifarious. To name the more striking ones; low cropping intensity, high cost of cultivation, poor adoption of modern technology, uncertainty in output, low productivity, increasing number of suicides among farmers, lack of institutional credit, inadequate public investment and high incidence of rural poverty (Anon, 2009).

With this background, this paper explores and identifies the major problems of unirrigated agriculture and opportunities for stimulating agricultural growth in Tamil Nadu.

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