Converting rain into grain: Opportunities for realizing the potential of rainfed agriculture in India - A working paper by the Challenge Programme on Water and Food
Mitigation of drought in rainfed regions of the country.

The study was done under the "Strategic Analyses of India’s National River Linking Project", of the Challenge Programme on Water and Food (CPWF) to estimate the available runoff in the potential regions to mitigate the terminal drought in the dominant rainfed districts of India. 

It developed a criterion and identified the dominant rainfed districts for major rainfed crops in India, made an assessment of the surplus runoff available for water harvesting and supplemental irrigation in these districts, estimated the regional water use efficiency and increase in production due to supplemental irrigation for different crops across the dominant districts and made a preliminary estimate of the economics of the proposed intervention.

The study concludes the following -

  • Rainfed agriculture is mainly and negatively influenced by the random behavior of rainfall, causing intermittent dry spells during the cropping season and especially, at critical growth stages coinciding with the terminal growth stage.
  • District level analysis for different rainfed crops in India showed that the difference in the district average yields for rainfed crops among different rainfall zones was not very high, indicating that the total water availability may not be the major problem in different rainfall zones.
  • For each crop, there were few dominant districts which contributed most to the total rainfed crop production. The most effective potential strategy to realize the potential of rainfed agriculture in India (and elsewhere) appears to be harvesting a small part of available surplus runoff and reutilizing it for supplemental irrigation at different critical crop growth stages.
  • The study identified about 27.5 M ha of potential rainfed area, which accounted for most of the rainfed production and generated sufficient runoff (114 BCM) for harvesting and reutilization. It was possible to raise the rainfed production by 50 % over this entire area through application of one supplementary irrigation (28 BCM) and some follow-up on the improved practices.
  • Extensive area coverage rather than intensive irrigation needs to be done in regions with higher than 750 mm/ annum rainfall, since there is a larger possibility of alleviating the in-season drought spells and ensuring the second crop with limited water application. 
  • This component may be made an integral part of the ongoing and new development schemes in the identified rural districts. The proposed strategy is environmentally benign, equitable, poverty-targeted and financially attractive to realize the untapped potential of rainfed agriculture in India. 

To download the report click here


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