This year has been yet another bad one for the agriculture sector. With just 0.2% growth in the last quarter, a good monsoon was essential to revive the sector. However, a deficient monsoon worsened the situation and as many as nine states have been forced to declare a drought. With almost 60% of India’s workforce engaged in agriculture, the slowdown has immensely affected the rural economy.
The rural distress has in turn fed the number of farmer suicides, but more often than not, states have failed to give due recognition to this problem.
Of all states, Uttar Pradesh has the highest deficiency of rainfall this year, leading it to declare 50 of its 75 districts as drought-hit. It has sought an assistance of Rs.2,058 crore assistance from the Centre. UP’s data on farmer suicides is also dodgy. Farmer representatives accuse local officials of gathering information on farmer deaths but deliberately not registering it.
Recently, Swaraj Abhiyan, an initiative led by activist-politicians Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan and assisted by economist Jean Dreze, conducted a drought impact assessment across seven districts in the Bundelkhand region – Jhansi, Jalaun, Lalitpur, Chitrakoot, Banda, Hamirpur and Mahoba. Some 1,206 households across 108 villages were surveyed and responses registered on five parameters: the extent of crop damage, impact on food and nutrition, impact on employment opportunities, impact on cattle, and availability of relief measure.
Damage to major crops
According to them, the deficient rainfall and the ensuing drought caused extensive damage to major crops. The worst affected was soybean: 96% of households reported a total loss.
A similar number also reported a total loss of previous rabi crops.
Drinking water crisis
The availability of water was a serious issue after crop-damage. As many as 38% of households reported inadequate availability of drinking water. As the table shows, the water situation has deteriorated from the past year. The groundwater crisis in Uttar Pradesh has worsened by nine times in the past 11 years.
Not getting adequate nutrition
Rising dal prices have affected everyone. General households consumed dal only for four days a month, against just three days by the poorest households. Protein intake is severely low, with households consuming egg, meat or fish just once a month at most. Sixty percent of general households haven’t consumed milk even once in the past 30 days; the same figure was 69% for their poorest counterparts.
In the last eight months, 38% of villages reported at least one death due to hunger and malnutrition. Fully two-thirds (67%) of households didn’t get or weren’t sure of eating two meals a day while 79% of households reported eating rice and roti with just salt or chutney on a few occasions.
The data also suggests the drought may well be a famine. Almost one-fourth (24%) of households reported sending their child for labour work while 36% had to borrow food for survival.
Cattle bears the brunt as well
Almost half of all villages surveyed (48%) reported more than 10 cattle deaths due to starvation, followed by 36% of villages reporting that at least 100 cows or buffaloes were abandoned.
Despite the severe conditions faced by the region’s residents, the state government’s response hasn’t been satisfactory.
- Only 59% of the poorest families had an MNREGA job card, while just 42% possess a BPL card.
- The average foodgrains received from the ration shop is just 25.7 kg.
- On average, just 9.5 days of MNREGA work has been provided to households since Holi.
After the survey, the Swaraj Abhiyan team met Akhilesh Yadav, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, to urge him to take some urgent steps. Though there have been some announcements, it is imperative that the affected families receive help immediately, the team says.
The help would have to be properly designed and implemented, unlike the previous drought package, which appears to have served as a means for contractors to enrich themselves.
A recent report by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) warned that the price of rice may shoot up in the coming months as stocks of the key staple cereal are depleting fast thanks to deficient rains and fall in output. It added that, given the drop in kharif foodgrain production at 252.68 MT for 2014-15, against a record 265 MT for 2013-14, it is highly doubtful if India could reach even 250 MT for 2015-16, which is ominous.