“There is zero crop in our land this year. Wheat threshing machines are lying silent and fodder is being brought from Punjab,” says Madan Lal, a farmer in Bakroa village in Bilaspur district of Himachal Pradesh.
In a normal Rabi season, Lal is able to produce 30 to 40 quintals of wheat and 20 to 30 quintals of maize in his eight bighas of land. But in a drought-like situtation persisting since January in the hill state where agriculture is largely rain-fed, Lal and other farmers have suffered severe crop failure this year.
Balbir Parihar, a farmer from Kahla in Solan district, said that people in his village are feeding wheat to the cattle due to lack of fodder. “Wheat plants are stunted because right from the time of sowing in December, there has been very little rain. Since we do not use much chemical fertiliser here, we are using wheat as fodder,” he said.
According to the Indian Meteorological Department, the total rainfall this winter (January 1 to February 28) in Himachal was a mere 59 millimetres against a long-period average of 193 mm – a deficit of 69 percent. Since March 1 too, there has been a rain deficit of 55 percent.
“In irrigated areas of our district such as Haroli and Gagret, there is actually expected to be a bumper crop because there were no moisture-related crop diseases. But 6,000-7,000 hectares of cultivated land have been affected by the drought here, which means the yield of wheat will likely be 30-40 percent less than normal in such areas,” said Atul Dogra, an agriculture official in Una.
He said that since erratic weather patterns are becoming the norm in the Himalaya, farmers are being encouraged to go for crop insurance and use a moisture-retaining method of ploughing.
Horticulturists are faced with similar losses and have been demanding an official declaration of drought. The chilling requirements of temperate fruit plants including apples, cherries and pears could not be met this winter due to lack of sufficient snow. Apple plants are currently in their flowering stage and prone to damage by hailstorms which is what happened in many areas of the apple belt last year.
In a meeting held to review the situation on Friday, Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur asked district officials to regularly monitor the situation arising out of shortage of fodder while Jal Shakti Minister Mahender Singh Thakur sought a consolidated report regarding horticultural, agricultural and other losses caused by the drought-like situation. With the coming summer months likely to witness drinking water shortage, Singh also asked deputy commissioners to identify land for constructing water harvesting structures.