Saturday, 31 December 2011


(This article was presented in the National Seminar on " Emerging Dimensions of  Dry Land Farming" on 20th & 21st March, 2011 at Kakatiya University, Warangal, AP - India) 

                                                                                                                 -Dr. S. Vijay Kumar          

           Dry land farming is an agricultural technique for non-irrigated cultivation of land. It may be defined as: “a practice of growing profitable crops without irrigation in areas which receive an annual rainfall of 500 mm or even less”. India has about 108 million hectares of rain fed area which constitutes nearly 75% of the total 143 million hectares of arable land. In India, dry land agriculture accounts for nearly two-thirds of total cropped area and generates nearly half of the total value of agricultural output. Rain fed agriculture encounters several constraints on account of climatic, edaphic, and social factors. Out of the 97 million farm holdings in India, about 76% come under marginal and small categories. The productivity levels of these areas have remained lower across years because of frequent droughts occurring due to high variability in the quantum and distribution of rainfall, poor soil, low fertilizer use, imbalanced fertilization, small farm size and poor mechanization, poor socio-economic conditions and low risk-bearing capacity, low credit availability and infrastructure constraints. Consequently, farmers are distracted from agriculture and tend to migrate to cities to look for alternative jobs. Hence, there is a great need to increase the productivity of rain fed crops and overall net returns to keep the farmers in agriculture. A paradigm shift in rain fed agriculture can be expected through technological thrusts and policy changes.

        India has about 47 million hectares of dry lands out of 108 million hectares of total rain fed area. Dry lands contribute 42% of the total food grain production of the country. These areas produce 75% of pulses and more than 90% of sorghum, millet, groundnut and pulses from arid and semi-arid regions. Thus, dry lands and rainfed farming will continue to play a dominant role in agricultural production.

       Dry lands, besides being water deficient, are characterized by high evaporation rates, exceptionally high day temperature during summer, low humidity and high run off and soil erosion. The soils of such areas are often found to be saline and low in fertility. As water is the most important factor of crop production, inadequacy and uncertainty of rainfall often cause partial or complete failure of the crops which leads to period of scarcities and famines. Thus the life of both human being and cattle in such areas becomes difficult and insecure.

         Despite all improvements in agriculture, we have not yet been able to evolve  appropriate practices for our dry land areas. The income of farmers of dry land regions is low. We continue to stress on intensive agriculture on irrigated land but we cannot afford to be complacent with our dry lands. We cannot achieve stability in food production with unstabilized dry land agriculture. Therefore, we are required to adopt improved technology especially developed for dry land agriculture.

The strategies that need to be emphasized:
(1) Land care and soil-quality improvement through conservation agricultural practices, balanced fertilization, harnessing the potential of bio-fertilizers and microorganisms, and carbon sequestration;
(ii) Efficient crops, cropping systems, and best plant types;
(iii) Management of land and water on watershed basis;
(iv) Adoption of a farming-systems approach by diversifying enterprises with high-income modules;
(v) Mechanization for timely agricultural operations and precision agricultural approach;
(vi)  Post-harvest, cold-storage, value-addition modules;
(vii) Assured employment and wage system;
(viii) Organic farming;
(ix) Rehabilitation of rain fed wastelands;
(x) Policy changes and other support system; and
(xi) Human-resource development, training and consultancy.

Characteristics of Dry-land Agriculture:

Dry land areas may be characterized by the following features:

1. Uncertain, ill-.distributed and limited annual rainfall;
2. Occurrence of extensive climatic hazards like drought, flood etc;
3. Undulating soil surface;
4. Occurrence of extensive and large holdings;
5.Practice of extensive agriculture i.e. prevalence of mono-cropping etc;
6. Relatively large size of fields;
7. Similarity in types of crops raised by almost all the farmers of a particular region;
8. Very low crop yield;
9. Poor market facility for the produce;
10.Poor economy of the farmers; and
11.Poor health of cattle as well as farmers.
Problems of Dry Land Farming in India
The major problem which the farmers have to face very often is to keep the crop plants alive and to get some economic returns from the crop production. But this single problem is influenced by several factors, they are:

1. Moisture stress and uncertain rainfall

The rains are very erratic, uncertain and unevenly distributed. Therefore, the agriculture in these areas has become a sort of gamble with the nature and very often the crops have to face climatic hazards. The farmers also take up farming halfheartedly as they are not sure of being able to harvest the crops. Thus, water scarcity becomes a serious bottleneck in dry land agriculture.

2.Effective storage of rain water

According to characteristics of dry farming, either there will be no rain at all or there will be torrential rain with very high intensity. Thus, in the former case the crops will have to suffer a severe drought and in the latter case they suffer either flood or water logging and they will be spoilt In case of very heavy downpour, the excess water gets lost as run-off which goes to the ponds and ditches etc. This water could be stored for providing life saving or protective irrigation to the crops grown in dry land areas. The loss of water takes place in several ways namely run-off, evaporation, uptake through weeds etc.

3. Marketing Problem
In dry farming all the farmers grow similar crops which are drought resistant. These crops mature at the same time and the growers like to dispose off their products soon after the harvest. This results in a glut of products in the market and the situation is badly exploited by the grain traders and middlemen. Therefore, marketing becomes a serious problem in dry farming areas.

4. Unbalance their economic position
Only drought resistant crops namely oilseeds, pulses and coarse grains like jowar, bajra, millets etc. can be grown in dry land areas. Thus, the farmers have to purchase other food grains and household commodities that unbalance their economic position.

5. Careful and judicious manorial scheduling
In case of irrigated farming the farmers are at a liberty to apply manures and fertilizers according to their availability and facility but in case of dry farming they have to be very careful in fertilizer application. Due to lack of available moisture, broadcasting or top dressing becomes wasteful and meaningless. These can be applied  by only deep placement and foliar spray for an improved crop production.

6. Utilization of preserved moisture
Judicious and purposeful utilization of preserved moisture water depends upon soil type, plant type and other factors. The amount of available water to the plants depends upon the depth of plant roots, their proliferation and density. In case of limited moisture condition, the yield directly depends upon the rooting depth. The rooting depth can be desirably increased by mechanical manipulation of the soil. If the planting is very dense and all the plants have same kind of rooting then there will be a tough competition among roots for moisture and scarce moisture condition will result in the wilting of plants. Therefore, utilization of preserved moisture is an art in dry farming. The water collected in ponds or brooks may be used to give protective or life saving irrigation. The widely spaced crops can be intercropped with oilseeds or pulses for increasing the productivity of the land per unit area and per unit time. Therefore, the water collected during the rainy season need special technique and skill for its efficient utilization.

7. Quality or the produce

The quality of the produce from dry farming areas is often found to be inferior as the grains are not fully developed or they are not filled properly; often mixed with other crop seeds owing to mixed .cropping system prevalent in these areas and the fodder become more fibrous. All these factors reduce the market value of produce and the farmers do not get the profit of their labour and investment.

Special Reference to Telangana
Telangana, the semi-arid land of India, is experiencing drought often pushing large numbers of people to the margins of living. Drought visits south Telangana "once in two and half years". The rainfall of about 70 cm and less in southern Telangana hardly justifies the fact that the region should languish under semi-arid conditions. In fact, the region forms part of the catchment of the perennial rivers Krishna and Godavari. The irrigation policy initiative over the years continuously favored the Delta region leaving a large number of people at the mercy of degraded nature and sub-human living. Thus "Telangana backwardness has essentially political roots: with better administration the considerable water resources could have been more fully tapped for irrigation. Telangana is still mainly a dry farming area, the reason for this in Telangana is long term failure to harness the potentialities of the area."

As major irrigation facilities are not sufficiently available and short fall of normal rain, when compared to Costal Andhra region, Telangana is mostly dependent on dry land farming. In Telangana, in view of the non-availability of water in wells and tubewells due to depletion of water table and drought farmers are now forced to keep major part of their dry lands as current follow lands. As a result, the area under follow land is increasing year after year. There is a shift in cropping pattern and at the same time, the total area under jowar, bazra, caster and cereals decreased significantly, while the cultivable area under rice, maize, groundnut, oilseeds, cotton, pulses increased proportionately. The yield and production of these crops also increased. It is a definite change in favour of commercial crops.

Due to recurring drought conditions, most of the borrowers in rural areas of Telangana could not repay the loans borrowed earlier. In view of this, financial institutions kept those villages as de-faulted borrowers, included in the black list closing their chance of borrowing again. This has become a stumbling block to majority of the rural households in all the regions in the state, particularly in Telangana. Consequently, the dependency on money lenders and private financiers is again on the increase lending to increase in the cost of production, unremunerative cultivation and increasing indebtedness.

The State needs to give priority for agriculture particularly, in the field of irrigation sector and cheap and assured credit facility. The focus should be on dry land farming, extension services and provision of quality seeds and fertilisers and timely assistance. In recent years the plan allocations to the priority sectors such as agriculture, irrigation have been declining from plan to plan. Irrigation sector is neglected.

Many of the proposed projects in Telangana region could not be undertaken. While total canal irrigation through canals remained stagnant, tank irrigation declined during the last two decades. Similarly, cultivation under dugwells and borewells has increased significantly leading to power problems, and depleting water table below 600 feet in certain areas, and gradual withdrawal of subsidies to agricultural sector also increased cost of cultivation unremunerative cultivation. This has led to unrest among the farmers resulting suicide deaths especially in Telangana region.

Telangana projects have been allocated 266.83 TMC (Thousand Million Cubic Feet. One TMC ft is equivalent to about 28.317 million cubic meters or 22 956.8 acre feet) of water against a due share of  552 TMC. Mahboob Nagar known for its very high levels of distress migration and perennial drought, should have got 187 TMC of water but have received nothing till now. Costal Andhra receives several times more than its due allocation of 99 TMC. Farming has become risky in Telangana, as indicated in the large number of suicides by farmers. Telangana accounts for as many as two- thirds (66%) of the total number of suicides reported in the state between 1998 and 2006. Though recent data shows that Telangana has been allocated a higher share in expenditure on irrigation (55%) than its share of population (41%) however, compared to costal Andhra, the unit cost of irrigation is much higher in Telangana (as it is situated in Deccan plateau) as lifting of water requires huge investments in pumping machinery and power. 

As a matter of fact, majority of the households in villages are considered to be labourers. Real development of villages can only be achieved if the labour households' employment, wages and incomes are improved. It is observed that employment, wages and other living conditions of labour households are further deteriorated in recent times. Non-agricultural employment is found to be significant in those areas where canal irrigation is provided. With the development of agriculture, non-agricultural employment was also generated in the command areas. Due to backward agriculture and frequent droughts in most of the mandals of  Telangana, labour households find it difficult to get employment during lean seasons and prefer to migrate to far and near places. The process of migration has accelerated in recent years. Due to lopsided developmental strategies pursued from time to time, balanced development of the state has become a casualty and regional imbalances went on widening. These imbalances have become stumbling blocks for the emotional integration of the people of all the three regions of the state. Further, the process of implementation of economic reforms including privatisation is taking place at an accelerated pace in the state.

Impact of Liberalization, Privatization and Globalization

The policies of liberaliation, privatisation and globalization have been displacing the masses from their opportunities. The benefits and subsidies meant for weaker sections are reduced year after year even these meant for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. This is not followed by a corresponding support in alternative occupations or opportunities. With introduction of labour saving technology in the field of construction of roads and buildings, wage labourers have been badly effected in the state. In view of the lopsided pattern of development, the state has been witnessing agitations, movements, rural unrest, farmer suicides and hunger deaths in recent years. The village economy is facing economic and social crisis. Agriculture is unable to absorb the over increasing working population. Further, the cost of production per unit of agricultural output in Andhra Pradesh now is higher compared to major agricultural States in India. The area under canal irrigation system declined due to deceleration in public investment in Telangana. In nutshell, the agricultural sector is neglected by the government. There is a need to review this policy.

Small and marginal farmers have been worst effected. Majority of the small and marginal farmers still depend in informal or non-institutional sources of credit, particularly, money lenders, private financiers at higher rates of interest, consequently, high cost of production and indebtedness.

Liberalisation and Privatisaion process was initiated in the state with firm determination during 1996-'97. But it's impact is not well received by all section of the people. Agricultural growth rates have gone down drastically. Employment situation in rural areas were not improved rather deteriorated. Whatever the employment opportunities have been created so far, they are largely low paid and casual in nature and insecure. Nonagricultural employment could not be generated to the levels of expectations. Villages have become markets for products of multinational, and big industries. Whatever the industries, or small scale industrial units were available earlier, they are unable to compete with global products either in quality or prices. Backward area like Telangana (except Hyderabad) could not attract either domestic or foreign direct investment.

There is an exodus of young persons from villages of backward and drought effected districts to towns and cities in search of livelihood. People from Mahaboobnagar, Nalgonda, Karimnagar, Warangal and Medak are migrating to gulf countries and Hyderabad to get some livelihood or other. Only old age people keep staying in rural areas. The Information and Technology could provide jobs to a few thousands of educated young people.

The Self-help Groups for women could not provide work as expected. This programme could enlighten rural women groups in political and social aspects. These groups could mobilise savings out of their hard earned income besides State/ Central assistance. As far as employment and income generation activity of this programme is concerned, very little is achieved. Whatever the products are produced by these groups, they are decorative and artistic, unable to compete with global multinational products. Mostly they are neither mass consumption oriented nor essentials. Hence, they suffer from lack of demand. The scheme has become political wing of ruling party for vote bank.

(1) Agriculture may be given top priority along with infrastructure development in backward regions. Constructions of Ichampally irrigation project across river Godavari will benefit north Telangana. Similarly, through proper allocation and utilisation of Krishna river water will also benefit Nalgonda, Mahabubnagar districts in South Telangana.
(2) Distribution of cultivable public lands surplus lands and cultivable waste lands among the rural poor provides some solution to the agricultural labourers.
(3) There is an urgent need to change the cropping pattern in drought prone areas of the regions to prevent further downslide of under ground water table.
(4) It is also necessary to identify backward districts  and specific area programmes may be initiated through state and central grants.
(5) Rural and agricultural credit facilities have to be adequately provided to all the needy households keeping in view the growing dependency of farmers and rural artisans on money lenders and private financiers.
(6) Both central financial transfers and use of policy instruments will be useful to attract private investment to the backward regions; and
(7) Enhanced allocations for social development such as education, health, nutrition, empowerment of poor. Further democratization of rural institutions etc., will improve education, skills and entrepreneurial abilities of people in backward areas.

Even after utilizing all the available water resources, about 50% of our cultivable area will still depend on rains. Therefore, our agricultural scientists, policy formulators and farmers should appropriately realize the magnitude of role that. rainfed agriculture or dryland farming can play. They should thoroughly examine the problems of dry land agriculture from different viewpoints and evolve appropriate technologies, crop varieties, etc. for these areas to better the economic position of the farmers. Dry farming areas, therefore, need a much closer attention for achieving food security in India.


1. Jodha NS. 1996. Ride the crest or resist the change? response to emerging trends in rainfed farming research in India. Economic and Political Weekly, 13 July 1996.

2. Gadgil M & Guha R. 1993. This fissured land: an ecological history of India. Delhi: Oxford University Press.

3. Development of Irrigation', New Delhi 'Development of Drought-prone Areas'(DDPA), p.47.
4. Forrester, D.B. 1970: 'Sub-regionalism in India: The Case of Telangana', Pacific Affairs, Vol. XI, No.111,p.8.

5. 'Perspectives on Telangana -I' 1997: Telangana Information Trust, Hyderabad.

6. ‘The Movement for Telangana’, EPW, pp 9&10,   


 7. Pattern of Development in India - A Study of Andhra Pradesh SER Division Planning Commission Government of India.

 8. Gadgil M & Guha R. 1993. This fissured land: an  ecological    history of India. Delhi: Oxford University Press.



  1. Dear Vijay all your articles are worthy reading
    - Megha

  2. please post some more artcles

  3. Well presented and informative article

  4. Thank you for the information sir.

  5. can you send your contact number,



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