Ground Reports

Unprecedented Rainfall And The Heat Waves Leave Farmers Of India Staring At A Bleak Future

Excessive rainfall, unprecedented heat, and other climatic changes have affected the farmers of the country year after year, especially in the last two years. 

By Hrishi Raj Anand, 30 Apr 2023

“All these years we have been promised compensation if our crop goes to waste or if there is a natural reason for our crop loss. But these promises have remained on paper. Why does the government always talk about damage control,” says Kirtan Singh, a farmer from a village at the Delhi-Haryana border.

Kirtan Lal lives in an area that although comes under the territory of the Delhi Government, the land comes under Lal Dora and it is impossible for them to get any benefits from the government on the basis of their land.

Lal Dora is the kind of mapping that was done by the British in the year 1908. Under this, none of the lands were given individual entities, rather they were identified as ‘Aabadi’. Several farmers not just from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and other States that were affected by rains this year but the farmers from Delhi as well had to face problems when it came to the brunt of the climate.

Singh walked the reporter across the fields as he talked about the losses that he had faced in the last two years. He says that with the extra expenses that came because of no water supplies, managing the house was getting more difficult for him with each passing year. The farming culture in the Southern end of the national capital is in a dilapidated state. To an extent, where the younger generation of the village is refraining from choosing farming as an occupation in the coming years.

Impact Of Climate One Year After The Other

Last year’s severe March temperatures, the highest since the country’s temperature record-keeping began in 1901, hampered wheat production, which was 4.5 million tonnes lower than planned.

India had hoped to produce 111.32 million tonnes of wheat in 2022, but the final figure was just 106.84 million tonnes. In 2023, India aimed to produce 112 million tonnes of wheat, a 5% increase over the previous year. It had planted wheat on 34 million hectares across the country, somewhat more than last year. However, just as the crop was about to be harvested, it took a serious hit due to excessive rains in several main wheat-producing states.

Speaking about the impact of the unseasonal rainfall, Gurvinder Singh, Director of the Punjab Department of Agriculture, said that the rainfall flattened nearly 40 percent of the state’s 3.5 million hectares of wheat crop, and farmers will have to put in more manual labour to recover the crop. Crop loss in the state’s wheat growing area is estimated to be between 70 percent and 100 percent, he added.

In 2021, Punjab would produce 17 million tonnes of wheat, according to him. However, due to the heat wave, it fell to 13.9 million tonnes in 2022. “We may not even break last year’s record this year,” he continued.

Gurvinder Singh is also concerned about the crop’s quality. Because of the water stagnation in fields as a result of the significant rain, the moisture content in the final product is likely to be greater than the allowable maximum of 14 percent.

In Haryana, the other primary wheat-producing state, Rohtas Kumar, Additional Director, Department of Agriculture, Haryana, said that nearly one lakh farmers from the state have registered at the e-Fasal Kshatipurti portal, where farmers apply for government benefits and request compensation for their damaged crops. However, the compensation required is for an area of over five lakhs hectares.

Kumar stated that the wheat crop in Haryana was sown over 2.3 million hectares, implying that a little more than 20 percent of the state’s crop acreage is under stress owing to recent rainfall. “The state may not achieve the targeted production of 11 million tonnes,” he said.

The Not So Efficient Govt Measures

According to data supplied by the state government, 35,480 hectares of crop damage had occurred in Uttar Pradesh, which received 251 percent higher rainfall between March 1 and April 3. This year, the state’s overall wheat area is close to 9.5 million hectares, the most in the country.

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, approved Rs 2,135 crore on November 24th, 2021 for the continuation of a scheme that will improve and upgrade the country’s weather forecasting and climate services, as well as provide cutting-edge computing capabilities and infrastructure.

The India Meteorological Department (IMD), the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune, the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), Hyderabad, and the National Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting (NCMRWF), Noida will be in charge of implementing all of these sub-schemes.

The continuance of Atmospheric and Climate Research-Modeling Observing Systems and Services (ACROSS) was approved by the Cabinet Committee. This scheme will establish eight sub-schemes, with financial support supplied throughout the following finance cycle, from 2021 to 2026. But as the scheme goes on, the implementation will take the next 3 years.

The initiatives are already on the go. But there is much more to the schemes implemented than what has been said. In order to get into the reality of the implementation, it is first important to highlight what are the measures that have been taken.

The journey of procuring forecast machinery began back in the year 2019. To improve weather forecasting in the country, the government was to purchase two new supercomputers with combined computing capability eight times that of the current capacity, according to a top ministry official.

Ministry of Earth Sciences Secretary M Rajeevan said, plans are afoot to buy these supercomputers, with a combined total computing speed of 80 petaflops, at a cost of approximately ₹1,500 crores. The MoES back then possessed two supercomputers with a combined capacity of 10 petaflops, one at the National Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecast (NCMRWF), Noida, and the other at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune.

Union Minister for Earth Sciences Harsh Vardhan was also updated on the priority procurement after he took over the ministry for the second time last week, according to the secretary. The supercomputers also play a critical role in computing data for monsoon and extreme weather events and are also used by other institutes of the MoES such as the IMD, said the Ministry back in 2019.

In the year 2020, the IMD mentioned that they were looking to install Automatic Weather Station (AWS) which was to be made especially for forecasts related to agriculture. The Met department’s ability to anticipate weather properly over the short term has improved significantly in recent years, according to the MoES secretary.

“Our short-term forecasting skills have improved to five days from two days previously. The false alarm rate has also decreased,” he said.

The AWS will be capable of measuring soil moisture and soil temperature, which will help improve agro-meteorological advisories. The deployment will be done in two phases and initially, 200 will be installed.

The second phase, which was planned for 2021, will see the installation of another 350 such AWS towards enhancing agro-meteorological services. It also includes setting up of District Agro Meteorological Units (DAMU) in each district of every state.

The Ministry stressed upon the fact that the short-range forecasting skills had improved and so had the false alarm rates. However, a different picture could be seen post a situation in 2022 during the winter session of the Parliament.

A question was raised against the government’s claims and investments into the forecast by an MP, in a reply to which Minister Jitendra Singh gave an appalling response. As much as the schemes and the investments into various forecast types of equipment and EWS Stations were being boasted of, the results were not as per expectations.

In April, at least six states of the country were hit by heavy rainfall, during the season of harvest, and the government could not do anything to stop it. Post the damage, a compensation of Rs 15000/Acre was promised by the Punjab govt to the wheat-growing farmers, but that was not close to the loss that they had seen in the past two years.

Although, unlike last year, the Central Government did take a decision to withdraw exports of wheat for this year, the same was not done last year. Agricultural experts believe that the same decision should have been taken last year as well.

Parliament Turned A Deaf Year

In the Parliament, last year in December, an MP from Rajya Sabha raised a question in the Parliament regarding the efficiency of the supercomputers procured by the government specifically for rainfall predictions. The response he received was that the predictions that came out of these forecasts were correct only 55 percent of the time.

Arora asked about the accuracy in the prediction of monsoon precipitation at block level within the country and the State of Punjab in particular; and the resolution at which the high-performance supercomputers acquired by the government can forecast for extreme weather and climate events- tsunamis, cyclones, extreme heat waves and cold snaps and the accuracy of the same during the last five years.

In reply, the Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) for the Ministry of Science and Technology and Earth Sciences Dr Jitendra Singh, replied that presently IMD is issuing Monsoon precipitation forecasts at district and block levels 1 to 5 days in advance.

He stated that the probability of Detection (POD) for heavy rainfall warning with 24 hours lead period is 74 percent in 2021, which has improved by 51 percent in the year 2021 as compared to their skill between 2002-20.

The Union Minister further stated that two High-Performance Computing (HPC) Systems, Pratyush and Mihir, installed at IITM, Pune, and NCMRWF, Noida respectively have a total computing capacity of 6.8 petaflops. Along with this, the Data Assimilation of NWP models has gone up to 500 GB per day.

The HPC system is being used for the advanced dynamical prediction systems which are now being used for Short and Medium Range, Extended Range, Monthly and Seasonal prediction.

Arora said the Minister further revealed that presently, two Global models (GFS & NCUM) at a spatial resolution of 12 km are being used with analysis, and product updates are generated 2-4 times a day valid for up to 10 days.

These products are regularly analysed and incorporated day to day in the forecasts and extreme weather events. Implementation of the HPC system has helped to improve the skill of general and extreme weather forecasts over the country, he added.

Although the numbers have gone up, and the forecasting has become better, the situation of the farmers has still deteriorated.

Virendra Singh from Uttar Pradesh is a small-scale farmer who had sown wheat on his one-acre land and was hoping for at least 40 quintals of wheat for the season. The family was preparing to use it for their own use and to sell the rest off to lead a living for some time. But the unprecedented rainfall and hailstorms shattered their hopes.

The rainfall destroyed 3/4th of his crops, and as a result, he has to bear with a loss until the next season. The farmer this season, with the help of loans, had installed a new tubewell in his farm that was supposed to end the water problems in his farm. Having a tubewell, even in a place where groundwater is available at a level as low as 40ft, the costs go up to Rs 60000-70000.

“If you would have a look at the grains, you would understand the loss I have to suffer. The grains have not ripened yet. Until they are ripened, they are of no use. The rain has come at least 20 days in advance and has left a drastic impact,” he grieves. Not just him, but scores of farmers in Uttar Pradesh and other Northern States suffer from the same problem.

Plight Of Lal Dora Villages

For the farmers in the urban declared villages of Delhi who are still dependent on agriculture, the conditions are even more worse. The farmers in the other States get five times the value of land as compared to them, the farmers narrate. A retired bureaucrat and now a farmer who has been one for generations from the village of Nangal Thakran spoke to the Mojo Story talking about this.

“I do not know what is the future of our village. We are already declared urban despite our primary occupation being agriculture. But this rainfall has come with a loss that farmers in our area cannot bear with. The reason is that we cannot even get loans like other farmers. Even to take a loan for buying a tractor, the bank denies us as our title deeds are not complete as per them because we come under the Lal Dora,” he narrated.

He continued to talk about how the situation was in the village, and since the farmers had been seeing a severe loss with their wheat crops, they are now compelled to sell off their land for household needs in the absence of a facility for loans.

Shyam Taneja is another resident of the same village of Nangal Thakran in the national capital. He has three sons and two daughters. He himself had 5 brothers. Although his father in his time was among the wealthiest farmers of the village, the situation did not remain the same for Shyam and a dozen others like him. The impact of climate change came later, first came the ‘batwara’. Since he had 5 brothers making 6 in total, the whole of his father’s land was divided into six shares.

And with time, as the family started to suffer losses in the absence of government aid, the younger generations shifted to other occupations and denied farming.

Although the family is still dependent on agriculture, the source is diminishing bit by bit. Recently, one of the sons had to start a new business of his own and had to procure a loan for the same. The land he had under his share was of no use since he could not take any loan under that. Ultimately, he had to sell off the land at a much lower cost than any place else.

Incidents of people selling off their land in the village have drastically increased in the past few years. And the reasons lie with the government and unprecedented climatic conditions.

“We have no representation, not even recognized as citizens of Delhi. People do not believe that there are villages in the national capital or that any citizens of Delhi are actually dependent on agriculture at all,” said a farmer from the same village.