Urgent steps need to be taken to enable farmers to plant the next crop in case the rains are good this year and to protect animals.
Bundelkhand has suffered the effects of climate change and drought in recent years, causing distress to local communities. The next few weeks are particularly important in the context of the immediate distress that they face and long-term possibilities for the region.
The first issue at hand is the protection and survival of farm and dairy animals. More and more villages are reporting the deaths of a large number of cows, buffaloes and goats. The deaths are caused by hunger, thirst and in the case of goats, disease. The Basod community in the Mahuabandh district reported that over 200 pigs had died in the last two or three months. These deaths have been completely ignored.
Vijay Bahadur, an experienced, elderly farmer from the village of Arghatmau said, “As the heat conditions are peaking in June, the next few weeks will be very critical and the government should initiate whatever protective measures it can as soon as possible.” A lot of avoidable delay has already been caused in this matter. There is a wide gap between government claims and the reality on the ground. The rapid rise in the market rate of fodder could mean that fodder meant for farmers is being illegally diverted. These problems need to be checked and urgent steps need to be taken to protect animals.
Secondly, preparations need to be made to ensure that, if rains are satisfactory this year, farmers are able to plant the next kharif crop. Most farmers in the region do not have seeds or other resources needed to plant the next crop independently. They should not be left at the mercy of local moneylenders who tend to charge high interest rates – the government should ensure good quality seeds are available to farmers or assist them to obtain their own supply.
The government needs to realise that the best way to ensure that farmers emerge from this crisis is to create conditions in which farmers are able to grow a satisfactory crop. The government policy should be linked closely to this objective. It would be foolish and harmful if relief measures are withdrawn or scaled down following good rains, as it is clear that the hunger and shortage of food will continue unabated until at least one satisfactory harvest can be obtained.
Much effort is needed to improve availability of drinking water in villages, and to repair and deepen existing water sources. This can be linked to the upscaling of rural employment guarantee work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) wherever possible. Sugan Yadav, an activist in Kainthora village says, “We cannot and should not remain dependent on tankers to meeting such an important need as drinking water. We should revive and repair water sources which had provided sustenance to our ancestors and can also sustain us if we take proper care of them.”
Villages such as Akaunwa in the Kulpahar tehsil have been rich in such traditional water sources built by the Chandela kings. Although these are still maintained for their archeological importance, the water from all four traditional water sources in the village has dried up. Such water sources must be revived wherever possible and again, work under the MGNREGA may provide at least part of the solution.
There are many possibilities for employment in the coming months which can provide long-term protection from the effects of drought and water shortage, as well as livelihood support at a time that people need it the most. Adequate resources need to be made available.
All pending compensation for earlier crop damage should be cleared as soon as possible, as it would support farmers to find the resources to plant the next crop. Pending payments for MGNREGA and other work should also be cleared at this critical juncture. If the rains are good, farmers should be able to plant the next crop in good time.