Dealing with drought, but not of ideas

Author: Anil Gupta, The author is a professor at IIMA, 
Daily News and Analysis | August 5, 2012

Let us recall drought of 1987 when large-scale migration of cattle had taken place. Fodder was brought from Punjab, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh, cattle camps were organised just outside Ahmedabad and a lot of children were withdrawn from schools. The water table had plummeted and grain prices shot through the roof, though sufficient stocks existed. Distress induced sale of livestock, which was accompanied by increase in informal borrowings because banks had somehow become cautious.
Drought looming large on Gujarat’s horizon and in other parts of the country calls for some reflection on choices ahead of us. We have to cope with the stress in a manner that sustainability is not adversely affected in the long run. There are several early indicators of impending stress that need to be tracked. While delayed rains in August can still make the situation bearable, it is unlikely to mitigate the damage already done.
The conditions of those artisans and labourers who depend on farmers for their livelihood need critical attention because they do not receive much relief in general. The public works for providing employment can be made part of long-term drought mitigation strategy, but often these are not.
Gujarat is blessed with a rich civil society that built lakhs of check dams with or without aid from the government. This also means that number of borewells has also increased.
If all of these borewells start extracting ground water excessively as is likely, situation might turn grim. In some parts of Surendranagar and in areas around Little Rann of Kutch, people have used motors of 70-80 horsepower. They obviously don’t extract only rechargeable water but also fossil water, which is the water held between rocks when earth came into existence.
Just as many fields became uncultivable in coastal Jamnagar and other regions due to ingress of seawater, I’m worried that excessive extraction of groundwater might make more fields saline in due course of time. Advisory on that subject will be issued urgently. Distress induced borrowing and sale of assets will have to be tracked and prevented, foreclosure of mortgages will have to be contained, and imaginary diversity of employment activities needs to be generated so that various occupation classes do not get de-skilled but are gainfully engaged.
Some years ago when excessive water was drawn from Kutch from some tanks, birds were found dead in their nests with their young ones underneath them. They could have flown away but they did not. SRISTI recently conducted a study of Chabutaras in about 180 villages. In villages that have many chabutaras including some very old ones, need for formal institutional mediation did not arise.
Communities have worked out time-tested rules for feeding the birds. Wherever schools have a system of collecting grains for feeding birds through children, communities track need for not only the present, but also for the future. Kids are groomed to take care of the birds. Excess collections are saved to meet future needs. In places where there are formal institutions for collecting grains, communities tracked use of the grains and feeding to the birds which established their accountability.
Shouldn’t we consider survivability of birds and animals with the same concern as human survival in event of a drought? National policies may not provide for it but regional and community action can take care of it; state intervention may or may not be needed. Fodder banks need to be created before it becomes too expensive to import from states up north. Crop pattern can be influenced so that even if yield goes down, supply of fodder remains intact.


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