- With Chhattisgarh’s farmers preferring to grow water-intensive paddy in summer, the state government and experts are worried about the impact on water availability. Rice is usually grown in the monsoon.
- Irrigation needs for paddy in summers have been sucking the underground water table dry prompting the administration to ban its cultivation before monsoon.
- To wean away farmers from the lure of high-yielding summer paddy, the state government has been promoting the cultivation of oilseeds and finger millet (ragi).
Chhattisgarh, one of the largest rice producers in India, has ideal weather conditions and soil for growing rice. However, many farmers have been sowing the paddy crop during the dry season (February-May), instead of the usual monsoon season, leading to a shortage of water as rice is a water-intensive crop.
While the paddy crop, a kharif crop grown usually in monsoon, has been able to generate surplus yield in the recent years, farmers’ proclivity to growing paddy as a rabi crop has alerted experts and even the government because of the impact it can have on the water table.
Rice accounts for 40 percent of all global irrigation and 17 percent of global groundwater depletion, with an average water footprint of 2,500 litres of water per kilogram, according to Beneath the Surface: The State of the World’s Water 2019 report. “Rice is the least water efficient grain and wheat has been the main driver in increasing irrigation stress. One kg of rice requires an average 2,800 litres of water.” report added.
In 2018, Chhattisgarh produced 10.5 million tonnes of paddy crop. With an average annual rainfall of around 1,207 mm, the net sown area of the state is 47.75 lakh (4.7 million) hectares, which is 34 percent of the state’s total geographical area. Rice is grown on 68.8 percent of the total agricultural land in the state, according to a study by Jawaharlal Nehru Krishi Vishvavidyalay, Jabalpur.
In the year 2016-17, the sowing area for summer (rabi) paddy reached 1.9 lakh (190,000) hectares, according to data from the agriculture department. The figure reduced in the 2017-18 season after the state government launched a campaign to discourage farmers from cultivating water-consuming crops during the dry season, reducing the sowing area for the year to 0.96 lakh (96,000) hectares. The highest sowing area of summer paddy was 1.94 lakh (194,520) hectares in 2015-16.
The yield for summer paddy productivity in 2017-18 was 2,767 kilogrammes per hectare, while it was 1,482 kilogrammes per hectare for the kharif paddy in the same year, according to data released by the state agriculture department. The increase in summer paddy sowing area is a matter of concern for the state owing to the water woes in major parts of the state during summer.
Sanket Thakur, a Raipur-based independent agricultural scientist and researcher, told Mongabay-India that there are four types of soil in the state and traditionally, farmers grow crops according to the soil type and irrigation facilities available.
He mentioned that while the state is known to have perfect conditions for growing paddy, it is only for kharif (monsoon season) paddy.
“The farmers in Chhattisgarh used to practice crop cycle and in summer, oilseed, millets and pulses used to be the favourite crops for farmers. Summer paddy is certainly a new trend and it is worsening the water crisis in the state,” he commented.
He highlighted that farmers are attracted by the initial good yield for summer paddy, but it destroys the agricultural field in the long run.
Why summer paddy
The increasing irrigation coverage promoted the cultivation of summer paddy in the state. The irrigation coverage for summer paddy in the 2018-19 season was 1.10 lakh (110,000) hectare, according to a national level monitoring report released by the agriculture ministry. The estimated surface water flowing through rivers stands at 48,296 million cubic metres, but the usable surface water in the state is 41,720 million cubic metres, while only about 18,249 million cubic metres is being used at present, according to state water resource department data.
Experts believe that schemes like Saur Sujala Yojana, where farmers get solar-powered pumps at subsidised rates promote water wastage. The government had distributed around 12,000 solar pumps under this scheme.
Omprakash Sahu, an agricultural expert based in Ganiyari, Bilaspur district, mentioned that there are many farmers who never switch off the solar pumps as they feel there is no cost involved in the process, but they aren’t aware of the cost of water. While the state government launched schemes to reduce electricity usage, it has led to water wastage, he added.
Gopi Krishna Das, an agricultural scientist with the Indira Gandhi Agricultural University, Raipur, stated that despite the discouragement from the government, farmers grow summer crops as the yield is higher than kharif season crops. He mentioned that his research has shown that the yield of summer paddy is 25 percent higher than kharif paddy. He attributes the higher yield to decrease in pests and proper weather conditions.
Das highlighted that irregular spells of rainfall in recent years have impacted the yield. While some had to deal with a shortage of water to irrigate and had to rely on artificial measures, farmers in other districts faced the loss of crops owing to heavy rainfall.
The control that one has while growing the summer paddy could be a major reason why farmers are attracted to it, he commented.
Chhattisgarh is covered by four major water-systems of India, Ganga, Mahanadi, Narmada and Godavari, with Mahanadi and Godavari covering 85 percent of the total basin area, according to data from the water resource department. According to the tank gauge report of 44 reservoirs of state, on June 7, 2019, only 31.68 percent of water against full capacity was available in reservoirs, while it was 37.95 percent on the same date in 2018. However, proper rainfall in 2019 increased the water level, and the water level of reservoirs stood at 58.15 percent on June 7, 2020.
In 2017, the Chhattisgarh government launched a campaign to discourage farmers from sowing summer paddy. The department of irrigation promoted oilseeds and pulse crops instead of summer paddy during the rabi season. The government had also issued a circular to all the divisional commissioners and district collectors asking the same.
The state was hit by a water crisis in 2017 with over 62 percent of its tehsils declared drought-hit. This year, the state government declared 96 tehsils of the 149 in the state’s 21 districts as drought-hit.
Ragi as an alternative
Apart from oilseeds, the central and state government are promoting millets as an alternative to summer paddy. The government has initiated a pilot project in Balrampur district where women farmers cultivate ragi in a 40-acre land. There isn’t a big market for ragi in the state and farmers rely on government support for its procurement.
R.K. Chandravanshi, joint director of agriculture department of Chhattisgarh, told Mongabay-India that 188 acres of land was provided by the state government and additional support in ploughing equipment, seeds and organic fertilisers were also provided. The land was provided to 19 women self-help groups in Vijaynagar area of Balrampur district.
Over 177 quintals (1 quintal=100 kilogram) of ragi was procured by the state government at Rs. 40 per kilogram, while the market rate is Rs. 30-35 per kilogram, informed Ajay Anant, deputy director of agriculture department for Balrampur district. He added that the government would use this ragi as seed for next season.
Agricultural expert Sahu stated that ragi is a good alternative for rice as it consumes 75 percent less water than rice and it’s also more nutritious. Through his non-profit organisation Jan Swasthya Sahyog, he has preserved around 10 varieties of the ragi crop and is helping local farmers in preparing the field and growing all varieties in their fields.
Doodhnath Bhai, a farmer from Ganiyari village, stated that he has been cultivating ragi for four years, and claimed it’s a great alternative for summer paddy as it doesn’t consume much water.
Krishna Kaushik, a Bilaspur-based farmer, cultivated ragi in his 16-acre land in Beltukri village of the district. He stated that he used to grow summer paddy each year, but this year, he cultivated ragi and got good results. He mentioned that though there is no market for ragi, he is storing it for his personal consumption.
Another farmer, Deepak Sahu, who cultivated summer paddy in Karhi Kachhar village of Bilaspur district, tried growing ragi after the area was hit by drought in 2017. He used the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), which is usually used for rice cultivation, but with the help of experts, he used it on ragi and has been getting a good yield.
The author is a Bhopal-based freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.
Banner image: Saplings of Ragi ready to be transplanted. Photo by Manish Chandra Mishra