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Of the world's poor, 70% live in rural areas and are often at the mercy of rainfall-based resources of income. India ranks first among the rainfed agricultural countries in terms of both extent (86 M ha) and value of produce. Due to low opportunities and higher population of landless households and agricultural laborers as well as low land and labor productivity, poverty is concentrated in rainfed regions. The traditional subsistence farming systems have changed and presently farmers have limited options and have started growing high value crops which require intensive use of inputs, most importantly life saving irrigation, and find it difficult to manage and eke out a living. These rainfed regions have limited access to irrigation that is about 15 per cent compared to 48 per cent in the remaining irrigated sub-regions. Frequent occurrence of mid-season and terminal droughts of 1 to 3-weeks consecutive duration during the main cropping season happens to be the dominant reason for crop (and investment) failures and low yields. Provision of critical irrigation during this period had the potential to improve the yields by 29 to 114 per cent for different crops. A detailed district and agro-ecoregion level study comprising of 540 districts was undertaken (i) to identify dominant rainfed districts for major rainfed crops (85% coverage), (ii) make an assessment of the surplus runoff water available for water harvesting and supplemental irrigation (iii) estimate the water use-efficiency and incremental production for different crops, and (iv) conduct a preliminary economic analysis of the water harvesting/ supplemental irrigation to realize the potential of rainfed agriculture. Climatic water balance analysis for 225 dominant districts provided information on the possible surplus/ deficit during the year and the cropping season. On a potential (excluding very arid and wet areas) rainfed cropped area of 25 M ha, a rainfall surplus of 9.97 M ha-m was available for harvesting. A part of this water was adequate to provide one critical irrigation to 18.75 M ha during drought year and 22.75 M ha during normal year. Water used in supplemental irrigation had the highest marginal productivity and increase in rainfed production above 50% was achievable. Water harvesting and supplemental irrigation was economically viable at national level and shall have limited impact downstream during normal years. This decentralized and more equitable intervention targeted towards the resource poor farmers has also the potential to serve as an alternative strategy to the proposed mega river linking and water transfer projects.
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Review and analysis of drought monitoring, declaration and impact management in India. Drought Series Paper
  • J S Samra
Samra, J.S.2004. Review and analysis of drought monitoring, declaration and impact management in India. Drought Series Paper. International Water Management Institute, Colombo, Sri Lanka.