A detour from the national highway 120 km north-west of Pune, Maharashtra, takes one to a 45-year-old farmer Rajendra Khapre’s farm in Ahmednagar — one of the most drought-prone districts in India. Rajendra has a small land holding. He has been practising agriculture in a region where the soil is of low fertility and requires more fertilizers and water. Now, he also has to cope with erratic rains and longer, harsher summers — the impacts of climate change.
“In 2005, 2007, 2013 and 2016, Maharashtra faced massive droughts. Forget agriculture; we didn’t even have water to drink. Farmers abandoned their fields and migrated to cities for work,” Rajendra says.
Being a rain-fed area, people in the region had begun cultivating traditional crops that needed less water, such as millets, horse gram, moth bean and sunflowers. However, the water shortage has become acute in the last few years with unpredictable and declining rainfall, making agriculture unviable, Rajendra says.
According to CEEW analysis, the frequency and intensity of extreme droughts have increased 4X in the Ahmednagar district since 1970.
Photo: Shawn Sebastian
However, Rajendra and several other farmers have found ways to adapt to the challenges. They have taken to watershed management and efficient cropping techniques with the help of grassroots-level organisations.
“We benefited greatly from watershed programs that helped prevent run-off from the hills. Gradually, the groundwater recharged, replenishing water in wells and lakes,’’ Rajendra says.
Water availability also helped him shift to other crops, such as onion, soybean, pomegranate and papaya, which fetched more money in the market.
To adapt to droughts, Rajendra has also started burying diffusers connected to existing drip lines in his pomegranate garden. During dry spells, the diffusers help to optimise water usage as they keep the soil around the roots moist. The practice is an ideal example of using traditional wisdom to build resilience against the climate crisis.
Photo: Milan George Jacob
Rajendra believes that only sustainable agricultural practices can help farmers fight climate change. “Chemical farming not only requires more water but also deteriorates soil quality. We must change our ways and shift to natural farming methods to adapt to impending climatic changes”. Climate-smart agriculture practices can promote effective water resource management and revitalise drought-prone ecosystems, especially in rain-fed areas.
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