Introduction: Dryland areas are characterized by low and unpredictable rainfall, lacking assured irrigation facilities. Dryland farming is practiced in these regions, encompassing sub-humid to arid conditions and featuring a cropping pattern dominated by coarse grains, millets, oilseeds, pulses, and cotton. Dryland farming covers 68% of India’s cultivated area, involving 40% of farmers and 60% of the livestock population. It contributes 44% of the country’s food requirements, playing a vital role in India’s food security.


Various Dryland Agriculture Methods in India:

Based on rainfall levels:
• Dry farming: Cultivating crops in areas receiving less than 750mm of annual rainfall, devoid of irrigation facilities, and with a growing season of fewer than 200 days. Major crops include millets like jowar, bajra, ragi, etc.
• Dryland farming: Cultivating crops in areas receiving rainfall above 750mm is known as dryland farming.
o Dryland farming contributes to approximately 80% of maize and jowar production, 90% of bajra production, around 95% of pulses, 75% of oilseeds in India.
• Rainfed farming: Cultivating crops without irrigation in areas receiving 1150mm of rainfall. Approximately 75% of India’s arable land is rainfed, with around 33% of wheat and 66% of rice production occurring in rainfed areas.

Different Techniques of Dryland Farming in India:
• Dry sowing methods: Including dry direct sowing methods (e.g., seed drilling) and wet direct sowing methods. Seeds are directly sown into the soil, reducing seed and water requirements compared to traditional methods.
• Ecological conservation techniques: Encompassing various methods such as organic farming, which regenerate ecosystem services like water infiltration, soil erosion prevention, etc. Techniques include no-till farming, strip cropping, multispecies cover crops, terrace cultivation, shelterbelts, pasture cropping, etc.
• Mulching: Involves covering the soil surface to minimize evaporation and enhance soil retention. Types of mulch include soil mulch (intercropping), stubble mulch (using plant remnants, cotton stems), and plastic mulch (polyethylene).
• Windbreak and shelterbelts: These structures reduce wind speed, leading to decreased evaporation losses.
• Weed control: Managing weeds helps reduce water loss as they compete with crops for soil moisture.
• Anti-transpirants: Chemicals like Phenyl Mercuric Acetate (PMA) reduce water loss by partially closing stomata.
• Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF): Encourages farmers to utilize low-cost, locally sourced inputs and adopt cropping methods suitable for their agro-climatic conditions.
• Other techniques for dryland farming include alley cropping, tree farming, pasture management, silvi-pastoral management systems, and agro-horticultural systems.

Distribution of Drylands in India:
Future Water Scarcity and Agriculture:
• The Niti Aayog’s Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) has issued warnings about India facing its worst water crisis in history.
• Around 90% of water usage in India is attributed to agriculture, with 80% of irrigation directed towards water-intensive crops like rice, wheat, and sugarcane. Reducing water usage in these crops is crucial for addressing India’s water problem.
• India is the world’s largest extractor of groundwater, with a significant portion utilized for agriculture (UNESCO World Water Development Report).

How Dryland Farming Can Help Indian Agriculture Adapt to Future Water Scarcity:
• Adapting cropping patterns:
o Diversifying crops in dry regions, moving away from water-intensive ones (e.g., sugarcane in Marathwada, Maharashtra), to align with India’s agro-bio-geoecological diversity.
o Crop diversification enhances nutrition, reduces energy demand, saves water, and decreases greenhouse gas emissions.
o Shifting to crops like Jatropha can alleviate petroleum crisis.
• Implementing better policies:
o Promoting demand for less water-intensive crops (e.g., millets, pulses, oilseeds) through mid-day meal schemes and ICDS.
o Giri Poshana initiative in Telangana distributes ready-to-eat foods containing millets, sorghum, and pulses to women and children.
o Democratizing water through participatory approaches like water user’s associations and irrigation management committees.
• Adapting to changing rainfall patterns:
o Climate change has resulted in shifting rainfall patterns, characterized by more intense heavy rain periods and longer dry periods within regions.
o Resilient crops like millet, sorghum, and maize can withstand extreme weather conditions (United Nations’ State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report, 2018).
• Employing more efficient irrigation systems:
o Adoption of micro-irrigation systems (drip, sprinkler) reduces water usage (in-situ soil moisture conservation) as seen in Maharashtra’s Yavatmal district among cotton farmers.
• Implementing better farming techniques:
o Adoption of practices like zero-tillage, efficient water management in irrigated paddy fields, dryland farming, and judicious fertilizer use can cut 18% of India’s annual greenhouse gas emissions (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre).
• Utilizing drought-resistant seeds:
o Genetic engineering of heat and drought tolerance found in chickpea can be applied to other crops (ICRISAT).
• Leveraging data for improved water management:
o Israel’s dryland farming techniques utilize data networks to monitor crop transpiration, irrigation water inflows and outflows, and evaporation, enabling informed water management practices.
• Focusing on livestock adaptation:
o Marginal drylands in semi-arid regions offer fodder production potential to sustain cattle populations. Extensive pasture lands and high-yielding cattle breeds contribute to this adaptation.

Government Initiatives for Dryland Farming:
• Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana (PMKSY): Watershed development programs, Har Khet Ko Pani, Per Drop More Crop, Command Area Development.
• Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bhima Yojana: Weather-based crop insurance scheme.
• Atal Bhujal Yojana: Promotes sustainable groundwater management in overexploited and water-stressed areas.
• Drought Prone Areas Programme and Desert Development Programme.
• Mukhya Mantri Jal Swavlamban Abhiyan (Rajasthan): Encourages water conservation and harvesting activities in rural areas.
• Jalyukt-Shivar project (Maharashtra): Aims to make 5,000 villages free of water scarcity each year.
• Mission Kakatiya (Telangana): Focuses on developing minor irrigation infrastructure, tank restoration, and community-based irrigation management.
• National Year of Millets (2018): India’s proposal to observe an International Year of Millets in 2023 was approved by the FAO.

Dryland farming is pivotal for ensuring protein security through pulse production, reducing import dependence through oilseed cultivation, achieving nutrition security through coarse grain crops, and supporting livelihood security through cotton production. Given the water scarcity prevalent in many parts of the country, successful examples of dryland farming in Ralegaon Siddhi, Hivere Bazar (Maharashtra), and Sukhomajari (Haryana) can serve as models for large-scale implementation.

Legacy Editor Changed status to publish January 8, 2024