Need to boost Rainfed farming

Published on - November 06, 2021

Issues of Rainfed agriculture

Source: The Hindu 


Human influence has unmistakably warmed the atmosphere, oceans, and land mentioned in the recent IPCC report. It also predicts that heatwaves will become more common in India, putting our agriculture and lives in jeopardy.

The report also predicts that pluvial floods (caused by heavy monsoonal rains) will increase. Businesses cannot operate as usual in the face of such "expected uncertainty." After extensive planning and effort, India achieved food security. Maintaining and improving it further by incorporating nutrition security is a must.

With rainfed farming covering a large portion of India, it is critical to focus on rainfed farming to ensure the improvement of agriculture.


Rainfed Farming and Agro-Ecology:

Rain-fed areas produce nearly 90% of millets, 80% of oilseeds and pulses, and 60% of cotton, as well as supporting nearly 40% of our population and 60% of our livestock.

These facts demonstrate a pre-existing vulnerability to resulting climate change. We have no choice but to prepare for, adapt to, and mitigate climate change.

Rain-fed areas are ecologically fragile and thus vulnerable to climate change, and they are primarily populated by poorer farmers. However, rain-fed areas also provide nutrition security through millets, pulses, and oilseeds.

Most of the endemic and cultivable landraces of these regions are ephemerals. The word ‘ephemeral’ denotes all plants lasting a very short period of time and inhabiting rain-fed areas.

Whenever rains come, dormant seeds sprout, flower, seed, and disperse their seeds in a short time. Productivity of most of the rain-fed crops is meager as compared to their irrigated cousins and hence traits of resilience and improved productivity are screened for under rain-fed crop improvement programs

India is a subtropical country with 15 agro-climatic zones and is primarily dependent on the southwest monsoon.

Of India’s 329 million hectares of geographical area, nearly 140 million hectares are net sown area and out of it 70 million hectares is rain-fed. The average size of Indian farm holdings is about one hectare.


Importance of Agroecology

  1. Agroecology is defined by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) as "an ecological approach to agriculture, often described as low-external-input farming." Other terms used include regenerative agriculture and eco-agriculture.
  2. Agro-ecology is more than just a set of agricultural practices; it emphasizes changing social relations, empowering farmers, adding value locally, and emphasizing short value chains.
  3. It enables farmers to adapt to climate change, use natural resources sustainably, and conserve biodiversity.
  4. In simple terms, agroecology provides crop diversity, but the world's main food staples are rice, wheat, maize, cassava, potato, and so on, despite the fact that there are nearly 30,000 edible plants.
  5. It seeks low-energy external inputs, agro-ecological services as enterprises, long-term soil coverage through multiple cropping, niche crops, and regional markets. 

Challenges of Rainfed Agriculture: 

Frequent Droughts: Droughts and famines are the general features of rainfed agriculture in India.

Soil Degradation: Since the Green Revolution of the 1960s, the national agricultural policy is driven by the need to maximize crop yield, using irrigation and intensive use of HYVs, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides.

This has been a major challenge in preserving soil in the drier regions and rainfed farming systems.

Low Investment Capacity: Rainfed agriculture in India comprises small and marginal farmers who accounted for 86% of operational holdings in 2015-2016 compared with 62% in 1960-1961.

Poor Market Linkages: Most of the rural areas are characterized by a subsistence economy. The surplus farm produce is sold only if family requirements are met.

Further, individual production units (families) operate independently which makes it difficult to pool the produce for an efficient marketing

There is generally enough rainfall to double and often even quadruple yields in rainfed farming systems, even in water-constrained regions. But it is available at the wrong time, causing dry spells, and much of it is lost.

Apart from water, upgrading rainfed agriculture requires investments in soil, crop, and farm management and improved infrastructure, markets, and better and more equitable access to and security over land and water resources.

To improve production and thus rural livelihoods in rainfed areas, rainfall-related risks need to be reduced, which means that investments in water management are an entry point to unlock the potential in rainfed agriculture.


Way Forward 

  • Govt Support Needed: Rain-fed areas and farmers are largely unaffected by the schemes because they use fewer fertilizers and irrigation, resulting in lower fertilizer and power subsidies.
  • These areas require renewed attention, especially when climate predictions are unfavourable.
  • Agro-ecology implementation in rain-fed areas could be a good policy option. Such interventions' design elements must begin with seeds and end with markets.
  • Codifying endemic landraces, collecting their seeds, creating a repository of indigenous knowledge curated from formal and civil society, improving landraces through plant-selection or plant-breeding, developing agronomic practices, region-specific orientation, institutions, gender, convergence with other programmes, marketing strategies, metric for measurement, and technology as an enabler are some of the things that need to be done.
  • Immunity-boosting and nutritious foods with little or no chemical residues are needed in a post-Covid future.
  • The obvious choice is rain-fed locations, and making markets work for agroecology could be a viable method.
  • Consumer education on how to cook these nutrient-dense crops successfully can create a demand draw. The state of Karnataka has created a millets cookbook that is both detailed and colourful.
  • Rainfed farmers require a more balanced strategy to receive the same research and technology focus and product support that their irrigation counterparts have gotten over the last few decades.
  • Greater R&D in rainfed agriculture is urgently needed, as is more policy perspective, such as altering government plans to account for the demands of rainfed agricultural areas.
  • Cash incentives and income assistance, such as the PM-KISAN plan introduced in the interim budget 2019, are better in the long run than broad procurement because they are inclusive in nature and do not discriminate between farmers in different areas or farming different crops.
  • Along with economic support to help farmers get through this crisis, now is the moment to plan more systematic measures in the future.
  • To make agriculture attractive in the long run, ease of doing business should be measured on the characteristics of seeds, soil, and water in rainfed locations.



The importance of rainfed agriculture varies by region, but rainfed areas produce the majority of food for poor communities in developing countries.

Although irrigated agriculture has made a greater contribution to Indian food production (particularly during the Green Revolution), rainfed agriculture still produces approximately 60% of total cereals and plays an important role.

In this context, it is critical to focus on rainfed agriculture in order to make the agriculture sector more sustainable and resistant to climate change.