By Md Asghar Khan
Khunti (Jharkhand), Sep 7 (IANS/ 101Reporters) Ajay Tirkey is just 29, but he is all set to move to a city in search of employment, thanks to the lack of rains that has failed the paddy crop in the region.
Jharkhand is known for its rainfed crop of rice, and tribal families like the one Tirkey belongs to are fully dependent on it. "My joint family of nearly 40 members relies mostly on the paddy produced on the 4.59 acres of land we own," Tirkey, from Sahilong village of Karra block in Khunti district, tells 101Reporters.
"Last year, we got a good yield. But we could not sow paddy this time due to insufficient rains and lack of alternative irrigation sources. We rely entirely on monsoon rains to sow the crop. When this is the situation, how is farming possible?"
With the financial burden rising, Tirkey and several other youth are forced to migrate. "Our parents can rear livestock, but we have to do something else," he says nonchalantly.
According to the government data, no paddy cultivation has taken place in nearly 95% of Khunti district's farmlands this year. And things are no different in other parts of Jharkhand.
Speaking at the Niti Aayog governing council meeting on August 7 in New Delhi, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren informed that barely 20% of farmlands in the state have seen paddy cultivation till date. The poor monsoon is even pushing the state towards a drought-like situation.
"Last year, I cultivated nearly 1.6 tonnes of paddy, and that too by July. Now it is already August-end, yet sowing has not begun," Dulari Dungdung (57) from Simdega district's Basar Toli village echoes similar sentiments.
She says farming is mostly done by women. "We manage the fields and run families. This is the case in most villages here. Men usually while away their time consuming alcohol. Whether they are at home or have migrated for work, it is only women who are responsible for farming," rues Dungdung.
She says women will now have to look at alternatives such as daily-wage labour.
A geographical issue
Farmers in Jharkhand mostly follow monocropping, with the state's topography being the main reason for it. Due to its plateau-dominated land features, fields are divided into three types. Type 1 is lowland fields, and types 2 and 3 are fields on a higher elevation. Most agricultural lands in the state fall under types 2 and 3.
According to the State Agriculture Department, irrigation facilities are possible only on 20 per cent of Jharkhand's cultivable lands. The rest is completely dependent on monsoon rains, which means farmers can only cultivate kharif (June-October) crops.
The state government had set a kharif target of 28.27 lakh hectare, out of which 18 lakh hectare would be paddy. Maize, pulses, oilseeds and millets would cover the rest of the area.
However, the target could only be achieved if Jharkhand received sufficient rains. As per the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) in Ranchi, Jharkhand received just 53 per cent of its normal rain during the monsoon season from June 1 to August 10. Normally, the state should have received 508.2mm of rainfall in the June-July season.
"Here, cultivation happens only in the kharif season. It takes a lot of persuasion from our side to get them to grow at least vegetables in the rabi season," says Dr Rajan Chaudhary, a scientist at the Agricultural Meteorology Department, Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Khunti.
Painting a bleak picture, Dr Chaudhary cites the case of Khunti district. "Paddy sowing was done only in 5 per cent of the fields by July-end this year as against last year's 98 per cent."
Seeking paddy varieties
According to scientists, paddy varieties range from those that are sown in shallow waters to those that can withstand drought-like conditions. In Jharkhand, 80 per cent of agricultural lands fall under types 2 and 3, where rainwater does not get collected.
To address this issue, the Agriculture Department suggests the use of Sahbhaagi, DRT-1 (also known as IR-64) and Swarn Shreya varieties. Experts say these varieties provide good yield even in areas with drought-like conditions.
They do not require standing water for growth and can withstand drought as well, Chaudhary explains. As a result, more and more farmers are cultivating these varieties in the last three years.
However, these varieties are not foolproof. Raju Sahu (41), a farmer from Ranchi district's Bodia village, has been using the IR-64 paddy. "There should at least be enough water on the field to sow paddy. Last year, I got a good yield of around 2.4 tonnes. This year, it seems I will have to purchase rice for the household," he tells 101Reporters.
He sows paddy in his one acre field, and grows vegetables in the remaining 60 decimals to feed a family of five. His wife sells the vegetables in Ranchi local mandi to meet the expenses.
The Jharkhand government has banned sowing of Rajendra Mansoori and MTU-7029 varieties this year.
"Both varieties can be harvested only after almost 150 days, which makes them water intensive as well. If sowed in July, the crop will be ready in December. But the temperature drop during this cycle will hamper the ripening process," explains Dr Ekhlaque Ahmed, Junior Scientist and Assistant Professor, Birsa Agricultural University, Ranchi.
On the other hand, the varieties that are ready within 120 days are thermo-sensitive and can survive the temperature drop, he adds.
Climate change plays spoilsport
How did a state that received excess rainfall over the last two years and bumper paddy harvest, suddenly fall into the clutches of drought?
Experts pin the blame on climate change. IMD Ranchi Director Abhishek Anand says that conditions in the neighbourhood have been different this monsoon.
"Due to climate change, the pressure in the north Bay of Bengal region is quite low this year. This has resulted in low rainfall in Bihar and Jharkhand. The data from the last decade suggest that this year Jharkhand witnessed the lowest rainfall in July."
Even the summers were extreme this time. For the first time in 23 years, the state capital Ranchi did not receive any rainfall in April.
(The author is a freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)