Distribution & Prospects
of Drylands

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Distribution and Prospects of Drylands

Drylands constitute ~47% of the Earth's terrestrial surface, and are home to >2 billion people. With about 45% of the agriculture coming under this sector, and about 130 districts in India have been recognized as dryland farming areas. Of these, 91 districts are in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, representing typical dry farming tracts. Other districts belong to areas in Central Rajasthan, Saurashtra region of Gujarat and the rain shadow region of the Western Ghats. Almost 17 states and UTs have substantial tracts of drylands.

India has about 108 million hectares of rainfed area which constitutes nearly 75% of the total 143 million hectares of arable land. In such areas crop production becomes relatively difficult as farmers here are mainly dependent upon intensity and frequency of rainfall. Farming or crop production in such areas is called rainfed farming as there are little or no possibility to irrigate crops, even protective or life saving irrigation is rarely possible.

Major dry farming crops are millets such as jowar, bajra, ragi, oilseeds like mustard, rapeseed, and pulses like pigeonpea, mungbean, urdbean, gram and lentil. Almost 80% of maize and jowar, 90%of bajra and approximately 95% of pulses and 75% of oilseeds are obtained from dryland agriculture. In addition to the above cited crops, 70% of cotton is produced via dryland agriculture. Dryland areas also contribute significantly to wheat and rice production. Thirty three per cent of wheat and 66% of rice cropping area is still rainfed.

Food and Nutrition Security from Dryland Areas

More than 75% of the peasants involved in dry farming are small and marginal farmers. Therefore, improvement in dry farming would raise the economic status of these farmers and help hugely in poverty alleviation. Dryland farming holds immense significance especially in the context of fluctuating food grain production and growing population in the country. The rapidly rising import bill for import of vegetable oils is a huge cause of concern to the country. Technologies to improve production of oilseeds in the dry areas will save valuable foreign exchange reserves. By enhancing the productivity of crops like jowar, bajra and ragi, which are mainly grown in dryland areas, would go a long way in making available nutrient dense cereals and millets to the people in dry areas.

Marginal lands in the semi-arid regions offer potential for fodder production to feed the cattle population which is an integral component of farming ecosystem in these drylands. The dryland areas have tremendous potential to increase food grain production of the country. Thus enhanced agricultural production in these areas would considerably boost the agriculture dependent economy of India even as it would help in mitigating the problem of hunger and malnutrition prevailing among the small and marginal farmers of the country.

Besides, the mammoth challenge of rehabilitating degraded lands to the tune of 26 million hectares warrants urgency of policies, plans and concerted actions.

The necessity of the current times is to implement concepts and approaches of agroecology through an OFAR (On Farm Adaptive Research) approach for developing innovative adaptation for ‘sustainability indices’ to become evident in the most marginalized, fragile ecosystems, including drylands, such that true Farmers Welfare will be the Dream come True!