- Dryland farming refers to the cultivation of crops under natural rainfall conditions without or very scanty irrigation.
- Dryland areas are characterised by low rainfall within a range of 375 mm to 1125 mm, which are unevenly distributed, highly erratic, and uncertain.
Issues with Dryland Farming
- The dependency on rainfall makes these areas less productive and economically fragile, increasing their vulnerability to environmental stresses and shocks. These areas have generally poor or degraded soils with low water holding capacities and multiple nutrient deficiencies.
- The distribution of rainfall during the crop period is usually lopsided, with crops receiving a high amount of rain when it is not required and lack of it when they need it most.
- Dryland areas are often more prone to drought and drought-like conditions due to poor and weak structure of soil and depleting ground water tables.
- The soils of drylands are generally deficient in major nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus.
- In dryland areas, land holdings are generally small (less than two hectares), fragmented, and scattered, which makes farming less remunerative and difficult as well.
- Further, frequent crop failures coupled with a lack of market facilities and weak infrastructure ultimately lead to poor economic conditions of farmers. Agrarian distress is very common in dryland areas.
Distribution and Contributions
- Of the 141 million hectares of estimated crop area in the country, close to 80 million hectares is under dryland farming, which is 52 per cent of the total cultivated land.
- Despite struggling with issues of scanty resources, environmental stress, and low productivity, the dryland agriculture is producing nearly 44 per cent of the total food grains in the country.
- Geographically, dryland agriculture area in India includes the north western Rajasthan, the plateau region of central India, the alluvial plains of Ganga- Yamuna river basin, the central highlands of Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh, the shadow regions of Deccan in Maharashtra, the Deccan Plateau of Andhra Pradesh, and the Tamil Nadu highlands.
Dry farming crops
- Major dry farming crops include millets, oilseeds, pulses, maize, cereals, and cotton.
- Almost 80 per cent of Sorghum and Maize, 90 per cent of Pearl millet, 75 per cent of oilseeds, and approximately 95 per cent of pulses are obtained from dryland agriculture.
- The dryland pulses help the small holder farmers in arid and semi-arid regions withstand weather variability. Pulses are also called climate smart crops because they require less water’ survive weather fluctuations, improve soil health and provide more nutrition per drop.
- Pulses in rainfed regions are ideal for on-farm diversification. As an intercrop with cereals and other crops, pulses bring in extra income for farmers and at the same time increase the yield of the main crop.
- Apart from contributing to food security, drylands also give a boost to the textile sector by contributing more than 70 per cent cotton to industries.
Strategies and Schemes
- Dryland farming is characterised by long spells of drought, high temperatures, and other climatic adversities which can lead to partial or complete crop failure. To mitigate the risk of crop failure, scientists have developed various techniques.
- Agronomic approaches have been developed basically to conserve soil and water, in order to achieve maximum productivity.
- Selection of a proper cropping system suitable to the area is one of the key strategies in drylands. The selection of drought-tolerant or resistant varieties is another key technique as varieties can withstand long periods of drought better than other varieties.
- Similarly, proper tillage, fertiliser management, proper weed control, and adoption of plant measures also contribute towards productivity.
- Improvement of soil condition can be achieved by planting cover crops which are known to prevent slow erosion, improve soil health, enhance water availability and help control pests and diseases. Cover crops are plants that are planted to cover the soil rather than for the purpose of being harvested.
- Mulching is a common dryland technique to conserve moisture in the soil by preventing evaporation. Mulch is a material, generally straw, leaves, or plastic, that is spread over the spread over the soil’s surface to prevent its natural exposure to sunlight.
- Shelterbelts and windbreaks are other common water conservation techniques prevalent in dryland farming. These are rows of trees and shrubs planted on the ridge or around the field to provide wind.
- Some engineering approaches, such as contouring and compartmental bunding, preserve moisture and prevent soil erosion in dryland areas.
- Check dams and farm ponds are common water harvesting structures in rainfed regions that help provide life-saving irrigation during long dry spells.
- In order to bring sustainability to the dryland agriculture system, the primary focus must be laid on rainwater harvesting and soil health management.
- Integrated farming modules for different production environments must be attempted on a priority basis for the risk-proofing of small and marginal farmers.
- Cutting edge technologies such as remote sensing and GIS (Geographic Information System) applications should be exploited for natural resource characterisation and land-use planning.
- Small farm mechanisation is another important area that needs early attention and addressal due to uneven monsoon patterns, drudgery, and an acute shortage of labour for agricultural operations.
- Energy efficiency and management, in conjunction with precision agriculture, need to be implemented in dryland areas for better productivity and profitability. In this regard, the use of solar power and other renewable sources needs to be promoted in dryland regions.
- Dryland farming is challenging with many constraints, but with the understanding of local climate and soil conditions, the selection of suitable crops, and the use of appropriate technologies, dryland farmers can produce bountiful crops even in the driest conditions.