Rescue by Indian women. When drought persists, consult your doctor

CNN carried the frightening news of 'India's farmers cursed with severe drought' (  'Climate Change is real,' says Dr William Dar, Director General of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, ICRISAT, which is based in the drylands of India and, therefore, in the thick of the climatic challenge. Dar is a Doctor of Horticulture, his postgraduate degree from the University of the Philippines (at) Los Baños, in that little University Town south of Manila. He should know what he's talking about. The drought is true, the curse is not. But it could become true if the farmers don't do what they have to do, the Indian government doesn't cooperate, and doctor scientists stay in their ivory towers. Climate Change waits for no man.
Whether in India or Zimbabwe, this time, while delayed monsoons as well as below-normal rainfall are not entirely new, there is a need for knowledge-based best efforts to mitigate the effects of the drought. When in doubt, ask the scientists. Based on information provided by Dr Dar, I can see there are two things that have to be done. One is to cope; the other is to plan and, having planned, to act accordingly.
The immediate concerns of Indian farmers have to be addressed as they come. An ICRISAT-led project is providing a working model for other similarly stressed villages not only in India but in all drylands of Africa and Asia. A group of women of Adarsha at Addakal, Mahbubnagar District in Andhra Pradesh, India, are showing how villagers can survive with the drought. The Adarsha women are helping run ICRISAT's Virtual Academy for the Semi-Arid Tropics, VASAT, which is expert- and Internet-based. The dryland farmers relay their concerns directly to the Adarsha ladies; with a little processing of the information, the ladies relay the need for knowledge or assistance to the doctors/experts of science via information & communication technology, ICT, including a satellite dish for video-conferencing when necessary or desirable. This is ICT technology truly in the service of the people in the hands of the people themselves, with a little help from their friends, the doctors of science. The women of Adarsha, may their tribe increase!
Planning and Acting
Beyond coping, Dr Dar proposes a 4-pronged science-based strategy not only to combat the drought but more so to improve the harvests from crops. I translate the strategy as follows, that farmers should:
(1) Replace crops endangered by drought.
With the delay of monsoon rains, farmers may not be able to grow their crops of choice. Instead, Dar says, 'they should grow other shorter-duration crops.' These are the ones you can harvest sooner rather than later, avoiding the drought that will come later. That is because these crops become harvestable before the soil moisture gets depleted if the growing season lasts longer.
(2) Grow drought-tolerant crops and season-adapted crops.
ICRISAT and partners from the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) and state universities have developed and released several varieties of sorghum, pearl millet, chickpea, pigeon and groundnut that not only decrease the effects of the drought but also increase yields over those of traditional varieties. The doctors of academe are not only good in science; they are also good in technology.
(3) Practice conservation agriculture.
'Water scarcity,' Dr Dar says, 'is indeed the most critical constraint of dryland agriculture.' That is to say, anything you do that helps you to conserve water is good for your farming. Such as preventing land degradation – when you do not protect your soil from erosion, your field gets deprived of organic matter, for instance, and hence cannot store much water. Vermi-composting may be an option. Likewise, it is a must to harvest the excess water during the rainy season, for later irrigation as the need arises.
(4) Communities must learn to help themselves.
With more appropriate policies translated into more funded projects, national and local institutions, public or private, must help empower communities in support of dryland agriculture, which has been neglected long enough. There is need for low-cost credit, market linkages, more roads and bridges, more value added to farm produce, more support services than ever before. There is also need for more farming options such as crop & livestock raising models, and multiple cropping as a hedge against failure in a single crop.
Traditional agriculture has always been a gamble with the monsoons; since the weather is not what the weatherman predicts but what Mother Nature dictates, that is why agriculture may be the riskiest venture there is. That is why, Dr Dar suggests, 'India should start investing for the long-term stability and sustainability of the farming sector, particularly in dryland agriculture.' If you gamble with the monsoons, you lose. If you plan ahead and act accordingly, you win.

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