Farmers in India do a lot of talking about the weather—especially, it seems, when there is no weather in sight. During the month of May, when the land heats up like a furnace and most fields lie fallow, when wells have run dry and the sun taunts from its broiling perch in a cloudless sky, there is no topic more consuming—or less certain—than when and how the summer monsoon will arrive later it will turn into a thundering elephant. Or it will start as an elephant and then turn into a deer. Or it will be erratic and annoying right through, like a chicken. In other words, nobody really knows. But still, everybody talks.
I remember one farming season the relentlessly scorching sun had cracked the earth and deep fissures opened up their sagging mouths desperately crying for water. All day, villagers had been speculating about those distant clouds. In the meantime, everyone kept scanning the empty sky. For weeks the sparse clouds cast only shadows. It was gambling time for rain-dependent farmers across India .For days I had been watching the clouds — first gray and flaky, and then black and heavy — as they descended ever lower; but there was no rain.
In the weeks leading up to the monsoon, many would invest a significant amount of money, often borrowed, to buy fertilizer and millet seeds, which needed to be planted ahead of the rains. There were many ways to lose this wager. A delayed monsoon likely would cause the seeds to bake and die in the ground. Or if the rain fell too hard before the seedlings took root, it might wash them all away.
The sage would tell me that God was punishing people for their sins. Just before the monsoon, farmers in tribal villages arrange frog weddings to welcome the rain god. Villagers make one male and one female frog pose in separate earthen pots for their ‘baraat’ (wedding procession). The procession finds its way to the local temple, where the frogs are “married”. After the wedding, the couple is given a send-off to a local water source and set free. If they croak, it means that they have been told that the monsoon is near. (Local people believe that frogs are harbingers of rain).
“Our lives are wrapped up in the rain,” the farmers would keep saying. “When it comes, we have everything. When it doesn’t, we have nothing.”I
In the meantime, everyone kept scanning the empty sky. If the people of Bina once believed the gods controlled the rain, they were starting to move beyond that. Even as they carried betel nuts and cones of incense up to the goddess’s temple, even as one by one the village women knelt down in front of the stone idol that represented her, they seemed merely to be hedging their bets. Krishna Bhadang, a sober-minded, mustachioed farmer in his 30s, sat on one of the low walls of the temple, watching impassively as his female relatives prayed. “Especially the younger people here understand now that it’s environmental,” he said.
All day, villagers had been speculating about those distant clouds. It was gambling time for rain-dependent farmers across India. In the weeks leading up to the monsoon, many would invest a significant amount of money, often borrowed, to buy fertilizer and millet seeds, which needed to be planted ahead of the rains. “Like fools,” said Krishna Bhadang, sweating beneath his white Nehru cap, “we just sit here waiting.” He kept running a continuous wager. There were many ways to lose this wager. A delayed monsoon likely would cause the seeds to bake and die in the ground. Or if the rain fell too hard before the seedlings took root, it might wash them all away.
It is not without reason that the Indian monsoon, which brings this rain, has been described as the final arbiter of India’s GDP. The country’s economy is finely tuned to the stability of the monsoon, and vulnerable to even small changes.
Complex and capricious, the South Asian monsoon—widely considered the most powerful seasonal climate system on Earth, affecting nearly half the world’s population—has never been easy to predict. And with global warming skewing weather patterns, it’s not just the scientists who are confounded. Farmers whose families for generations have used the Panchangam, a thick almanac detailing the movement of the Hindu constellations, to determine when the monsoon rains are due and thus when to plant their crops, lament that their system no longer works reliably.
Water is obviously crucial to every part of a society, but in India, over 600 million people make a living off the land. They rely on the monsoon to replenish their water sources, and that leaves them vulnerable when the rains don’t come as expected — or arrive in a surprising way
Rainfall accounts for 68% recharge to ground water, and the share of other resources, such as canal seepage, return flow from irrigation, recharge from tanks, ponds and water conservation structures taken together is 32%.
India’s water crisis stems from a thorny mix of economic geographic, and political factors .it is highly dependent on a few major river systems, especially the Ganges and its tributaries, for its water supply. It uses almost twice the amount of water to grow crops as compared to China and United States. There are two main reasons for this. First, power subsidies for agriculture have played a major role in the decline of water levels in India. . Second, it has been observed that even though Minimum Support Prices (MSPs) are currently announced for 23 crops, the effective price support is for sugarcane, wheat and rice. This creates highly skewed incentive structures in favour of water intensive crops.
Given the enormity of India’s water issues, encouraging single villages to revive and protect their own watersheds can seem a feeble response to a national crisis. But compared with controversial top-down, government-led efforts to build big dams and regulate the wanton drilling of deep wells, a careful grassroots effort to manage water locally can look both sensible and sustainable.
India also needs to revive its traditional water harvesting practices. The idea behind watershed development is simple: If people cut fewer trees, increase plant cover on the land, and build a well-planned series of dams and earthen terraces to divert and slow the downhill flow of rainwater, the soil has more time to absorb moisture. The terracing and new vegetation also control erosion, which keeps nutrient-rich topsoil from washing or blowing away, and this in turn boosts the productivity of agricultural land.
Israel has been a role model for the world in matters of water management and India is now actively seeking the country’s help. Israel’s successes were in large part due to the major innovation of drip irrigation. The country has also set the template for reusing wastewater in irrigation. It treats 80% of its domestic wastewater, which is recycled and constitutes nearly 50% of the total water used for agriculture.
Realizing its dire predicament decades ago, Israel studied the “water equation” and made itself all but independent from Mother Nature. Israel took 70 years to solve its water problem; India won’t need that long, as it can emulate Israeli advances. But New Delhi must summon the political will to act before the water runs out. Changing governance, raising money, and installing technologies all take time and the climatic stresses are mounting fast.
Moin Qazi is a well known banker, author and Islamic researcher .He holds doctorates in Economics and English. He was Visiting Fellow at the University of Manchester. He has authored several books on religion, rural finance, culture and handicrafts. He is author of the bestselling book Village Diary of a Development Banker. He is also a recipient of UNESCO World Politics Essay Gold Medal and Rotary International’s Vocational Excellence Award. He is based in Nagpur and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org