Assam faces drought

In the first week of August, national dailies carried familiar news: Assam floods. A week later, the news petered out, and understandably so. The floods this time were far from what Assam would see every year. The news of floods hid the real problem confronting Assam farmers. The problem of drought. 

Although the Indian Meteorological Department hasn’t yet announced a drought emergency in Assam, the state witnessed 40 per cent less rainfall during the pre-monsoon season from March to May. 

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According to the data obtained from the Agriculture Department of Assam, a comparative analysis of the average rainfall between 2017-2020 from March to August compared with 2021 within the same period indeed shows a sharp decline this year.  

Data obtained from the department also mentions that 18 districts have experienced over 19% rainfall deficiency until August. Among them are Baksa, Barpeta, Bongaigaon, Cachar, Chirang, Darrang, Dhemaji, Dhubri, Dibrugarh, Goalpara, Golaghat, Hailakandi, Jorhat, Kamrup (Rural), Kamrup metro, Karbi Anglong, Karimganj and Kokrajhar. 

“This year, the state received less rainfall as compared to the normal, especially from May to August,” said an official from the Department of Agriculture.  

“Pre-monsoon is important for Kharif crops in Assam. Winter paddy is the major crop in Assam. Sali paddy is a water-loving crop, and the crop requires stagnation of water in the field. In rainfed areas, the crop growth and production depend on rainfall that occurs during May to September,” he added. 

When asked which crops have been the most affected due to less rainfall, he said, “Sali paddy and sali saplings have been the most affected in addition to other crops like vegetables.”

As per the Government of India Drought Manual-2016, the Department has observed a drought-like situation in 5 districts, namely Golaghat, Hojai, Kamrup Rural, Karbi Anglong and West Karbi Anglong. 

Although Darrang is not included among those districts, rainwater for the district has deviated as much as 94% in March, 57% in April, 50% in May, 35% in June, 10% in July and 3% in August from the normal amount. Overall until August, there has been a deviation of 28% from the normal rainfall.

“If we see the data from 1990, during 2006-07, the total rice production was the Lowest- 29.16 Lakh MT”, said Vinod Seshan, director, agriculture. Notably, the production of rice in 2018-19 was 54.37 Lakh MT and 52.14 Lakh MT in 2019-2020

Maneswar Das, a farmer from Darrang district and the sole earner in his family, told EastMojo how his Dhaan Bhoral (grain reservoir) has hardly seen any grains this year. 

“With great difficulty, I had sown the seeds in my seven bigha land this year. But there has been no rainfall. On top of that, wild bulls destroy the crops here. All of my crops have been damaged. I invested around Rs 12,000-14,000 for ploughing. Now, we are somehow surviving on rice and salt with my carpentry work.”

Maneswar’s family is one of the 4,000 families that live in Kurua village of Assam’s Darrang district. About 90 per cent of the villagers depend on agriculture for their survival, with the rest 10 per cent working in private sectors or industries.

Kharif is the main rice-growing and the most important season for a farmer, and abundant rainfall is the prerequisite condition for rice farming. But a dry spell this year has cast its gloom on the farmers of Kurua village. 

“Not even cows would eat these rice saplings,” said Suneswar Das, as he stares at his dreading Kharif crops. 

“We have a gram sevak, but nobody ever visits us. They haven’t issued us any advisory on farming this year. These officers should have visited us. It is because of such an attitude that the farmers face such a condition. How will the common person survive? The people who depend only on farming, how will they survive? If the government does not help us, there is no option for us apart from dying.” 

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