To boost Indian agriculture, government must meet three simultaneous objectives — global competitiveness, social inclusiveness and environmental sustainability. Official policy has largely tilted towards supporting the first two goals and not giving the due importance of the third one.
Thus, while there is watershed management projects aimed at moisture conservation and improvement of soil health, the budgetary provisions towards these lag far behind expenditures on subsidies for fertilisers, power, water or seeds.
Almost 65 per cent of India’s arable land area of around 140 million hectares is classified as rainfed. Farming operations in such lands are mostly characterised by low productivity, high risk and poor adoption of modern technology/agronomic practices.
Production of pulses, in particular, is concentrated in the rainfed tracts of central, southern and western India, where the soils are thin with little organic matter to retain moisture for extended periods. These areas are also characterised by undulating terrains.
The Centre and the Planning Commission, had back in the 1960s realised that it wasn’t possible to support agriculture growth in the rainfed regions by replicating the input-intensive strategy adopted in the better-endowed Green Revolution belt of north-western India or even the larger Indo-Gangetic plains.
Thus, a series of initiatives were launched to take a natural resource management (NRM) based approach for promoting farm growth in rainfed areas. Schemes such as the Drought Prone Areas Programme and the Desert Development Programme were implemented in select watersheds to demonstrate the benefits of a holistic and integrated NRM-based approach.