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India - Dry spell causes extensive crop loss in Himachal

At a time when the water level in rivers is receding at a rapid pace, the prevailing arid climatic conditions across Himachal Pradesh have caused extensive damage to crops.

In March, the hill-state recorded a cumulative rain deficit of around 62% and the dry spell is expected to continue into the first week of April. This month all 12 districts of Himachal Pradesh recorded ‘deficit’ or ‘large deficit’ precipitation, officials said, adding that the average precipitation was 41.7mm. Thirteen spells of precipitation were recoded in March, of which only five gave ‘widespread’ to ‘fairly widespread’ precipitation.

The weatherman has predicted a five-day dry spell in the state. “There were a lot of western disturbances but they only caused wet spells over northern parts of the country and regions of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir,” said Shimla Regional Meteorological Centre director Manmohan Singh.

Agriculture mainstay for 89.96% population

The situation has raised red flags for farmers and the government. Agriculture is the primary occupation for 89.96% of the population. Agriculture and horticulture provides direct employment to around 70% of the total workers in the state. Agriculture in Himachal comprises 13.62% of the state income. Of the total geographical area of the state (55.67 lakh hectares), the operational land holding of 9.44 lakh hectare is operated by 9.44 lakh farmers. Around 80% percent of the total cultivated area in the state is rain fed.

The dry spell has made farmers in Kangra anxious as the district accounts for the highest production of wheat crop. Rain in Kangra was 83% below the normal.

Chandermani Verma, a farmer from Mandi, said the prolonged dry spell had adversely hit the Rabi crop, primarly wheat. “Around 30 -40% of the crop was damaged. Rainfall in mid-March brought some relief but more damage is likely if it does not rain for few more days,” Verma said.

Hamirpur, Bilaspur, Una and Chamba districts have also received scanty rainfall. The dry spell has also delayed sowing of vegetables, particularly the cucurbits ( gourd family), that are sold during the summer.

“ There has been extensive damage to the wheat and other standing crops in the lower parts of Himachal Pradesh “ said director agriculture, Naresh Kumar Badhan

“So far, around 20 to 25% of the crop has already been damaged, the extent could have been more if the weather remains dry in the coming days,” he said.

The agriculture department has sent out its teams for assessing the damage. “Himachal’s economy is largely dependent on agriculture and any fluctuation in the production of food grains affects the economy,” says economist Pradeep Chauhan , former economic advisor to the state government.

Apple growers concerned

The dry spell has also added to the worries of the fruit growers. “Arid climate has caused stress on the plants, it is resulting in weak blooming in apple trees. The drought like situation will adversely impact the fruit quality,” says Progressive Apple Growers’ association President Lokinder Singh Bisht . “Sudden rise in temperature has caused blooming in higher elevation orchards, which is premature by two weeks” he said.

Declare state drought prone: Farmers

In the wake of the prevailing dry spell, farmers in Himachal Pradesh are demanding that the government to declare the state drought-prone state .

Bharatiya Kisan Sangh has submitted a memorandum demanding the same. “ There has been very little snowfall and winter rainfall has been deficient , it has created a drought-like situation in the state that has affected rabi crops. Water sources are drying up rapidly,” said president Kedar Singh Tomar of Kisan Sangh Shimla . Farmers are demanding relief for the crop damage. Rabi crops such as wheat, gram, barley, peas, and potato and fodder crops have also seen heavy losses.

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