Farmers in around 21,000 Rajasthan villages are in deep trouble as much of the standing winter crops have been ruined by recent hailstorms and rain. The desert is waterlogged in places. The harvest cycle is disturbed. Experts fear that worse is to come. It may be time for the state government to rewrite its climate action plan

Ruined Wheat crop  after hailstorm in Rajasthan (Image by Shipra Mathur)

Ruined wheat crop after hailstorm in Rajasthan (Image by Shipra Mathur)

South Asia has seen 150% more rainfall in the 45 days between March 1 and April 15, 2015 than the average for this time of the year. The result is widespread distress among farmers, whose winter crops were all ready for harvest when they were affected by the rain.

Official reports have now confirmed that in India, Rajasthan has been the state worst affected by hailstorms and rain. Of the 33 districts in the desert state in north-western India, 25 have been affected, and around 20 million people are affected. In 7,700 villages, farmers have lost 50-100% of their crop, while others have suffered losses between 25 and 49%.

It has led to some farmers dying of heart attacks or committing suicide as they were unable to bear the losses, something unheard of in this state earlier.

The loss is huge and irreparable, though the government has announced a compensation formula. Even as officials and politicians started touring the affected villages, the hailstorms continued. One Member of Parliament has now started a campaign called “Fistful of Grain” for the farmers in the Hadoti region of the state – an area where most residents are staring at complete ruin of half a year’s work.

The state’s agriculture ministry has confirmed that the unseasonal hailstorms and rain have led to crop losses in 45% of the state’s farmland, the highest percentage in the country. Rajasthan’s wheat production is predicted to go down by 2% this year.

The state government has sought Rs 8,252 crore ($1,312 million) in relief from the centre. It released Rs 897 crore in compensation by the first week of April. Farmers who have lost more than 50% of their crops have been exempted from having to pay electricity bills for the next four months.

Western Rajasthan is primarily a desert that gets 313 mm average annual rainfall while the eastern region receives a rainfall of 675 mm annually on the average. But this year, all records have been broken. The rainfall for the month of March was the highest recorded in the past century. This is an area where people are used to coping with drought, not with excess rainfall.

But in the past few years, the state has witnessed both high intensity rainfall and extreme heat. The winter is shorter. The soil is unable to handle this change. So are the people. Scientists are not yet sure if this is a sign of climate change, but the farmers are.

Rajasthan’s economy is primarily dependent on agriculture and animal husbandry. As the climate changes, farmers have been seeking timely village-level weather predictions that can help them plan their sowing and harvesting.

Shortcomings in state plan

Rajasthan’s plan on climate change was drafted last year by consultants from a think tank – The Energy and Resources Institute – with help from the German bilateral aid agency GIZ. But there is no mention of vulnerability to this extent or what to do about it anywhere in the 291-page plan. Water stress, groundwater loss and a whole range of other issues that were known already have been outlined in detail. But it misses out on providing any warning of what might be in store for the land and its people and says nothing about how to deal with such an eventuality as has been witnessed this time.

All agencies dealing with weather analysis and forecasts have failed to collaborate and provide warnings in time to save lives and minimise losses.

The situation will remain the same until climate change is integrated as part of overall planning and action plans are operationalised in true spirit with ample functions, funds and functionaries apart from involving multiple stakeholders to define clearly what needs to be done.

Meteorologists are now studying the el Niño that is gathering momentum in the Pacific Ocean, in order to see its effect on this year’s monsoon rainfall in South Asia. As yet, there is no forecast at the national level – leave alone the state level – so farmers do not know how to plan their summer crop.

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