The Jammu and Kashmir government has directed farmers in the state not to sow paddy, as it fears that the region may face water shortage in the coming months. The direction comes after the state received less than normal snowfall and rain in the winter of 2017, and in the initial days of spring this year. If the situation aggravates, it may also lead to a drinking water crisis in many villages, as streams may run dry in the course of time.
To avoid any crisis, the government has forewarned farmers to grow crops that require less water in summer. In the Valley, farmers do not use groundwater for irrigation purposes, thereby making paddy fields dependent on surface water. The Irrigation and Flood Control Department provides water to 2.5 lakh hectares of land. But, why has the situation come to such a pass, and what are the alternative options available to farmers?
Which does the circular say?
The government has issued a circular informing farmers about the dry spell that the state has been witnessed for the last several months. It has stated that the Irrigation Department will not be in a position to provide water for paddy fields, and as a result, farmers should sow crops which require minimal water.
Which districts have been warned?
The advisory has been circulated in six districts in Kashmir including Baramulla, Kupwara, Budgam and Pulwama. The circular is also applicable to areas which receive water through streams originating from mountains, forests, and lift irrigation schemes.
Is it mandatory for farmers to follow the circular?
Yes. In such a situation, the government can use force to desist farmers from sowing paddy. In the peak of summer, when farmers will require water for agricultural purposes, and if the irrigation department fails to supply it, there may be violent protests, that may disturb the law and order situation in the state. However, officials say that this circular is restricted to providing advice only.
Why has such a circular been issued?
The government was compelled to issue the circular after reviewing the current water levels in different rivers and streams across the state. The water level in Jhelum, which should have been 1.5 meters (five feet), now stands at a 1.3 meter. Although abundant rainfall in the coming months could help improve the situation, such a relief would be temporary. “We want to save our farmers from losses, as the water discharge in rivers and streams is very low this time due to a dry spell in the Valley from past eight months, especially in winter months,” the chief engineer of the Irrigation Department said.
How less has been the rain and snowfall in Kashmir compared to earlier winters?
As per data published by the meteorological department, the state has received deficit rainfall for the last three years. While in the first three months of 2016, Kashmir received 265 mm rainfall; in 2017, the state received 494 mm rainfall for the same period. However, the average rainfall for this period is 627 mm. In the last two months of 2017, the Valley received lesser rainfall in comparison to the three previous years. According to Met officials, this is one of the prolonged dry spells the state has seen. A similar situation was last witnessed in 2000.
What has caused the dry spell?
Experts say that the water scarcity is linked to global warming. In the last few winters, day temperature recorded in Kashmir has been above normal. In February and March (2017), day temperature was higher in comparison to the same period the previous year. A change in pattern of snowfall has also been noticed.
Has such a circular been issued earlier?
Similar circulars were issued in 1957 and 2000, when Kashmir witnessed a drought-like situation. However, during these periods, farmers did not pay heed to advisories, and suffered huge losses.
How important is rice to Kashmir’s economy?
In Kashmir, rice is the staple food. Paddy is cultivated in around 1.41 lakh hectares of land. Nearly 88 lakh quintals of rice are produced every year, and the industry is worth Rs 400-500 crore.
What other crops can farmers now grow?
Farmers can grow maize, cereal, and other short-duration crops. Instead of one, they can grow more than two crops.
What are the different varieties of rice that are grown in Kashmir?
Around eight to ten varieties of rice are grown in the Valley. These varieties are considered among the best in the world due to the use of surface water (instead of groundwater), and the minimum use of fertilisers. The varieties include K332, Jhelum, Shalimar Rice 1, Shalimar Rice 2, Shalimar Rice 3, Mushk Budji, Kamad and Zag or Red Rice.
Apart from paddy, farmers in Kashmir also grow mustard as a second crop. Will that be impacted?
No, mustard requires less water. However, the production will be hit due to the prolonged dry spell. There are reports that farmers are turning their paddy fields into orchards or housing colonies. In 2002, around 1.70 lakh hectares of land was used for cultivating paddy. The area fell to 1.58 lakh hectares in 2012, and currently, 1.41 lakh hectares is under paddy cultivation. In the last 16 years, the Valley has lost around 29,000 hectares of land.