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21 Aug, 2009 10:21

Indian farmers face hunger due to drought

India's monsoon rains have failed to arrive and farmers in the worse hit regions say there is little hope that enough crops can be grown this year to stave off food shortages.

Along with almost half the country, the state of Jharkhand in eastern India has been badly affected by drought this year.

Despite containing nearly 40 per cent of India's mineral reserves, it is one of the country’s poorest regions. Employment opportunities are few, and nearly 80 per cent of the population is dependent on agriculture.

Therefore life in Jharkhand depends entirely on water, and in a year like this when the monsoon rain fails, great pressure is put on people’s livelihood.

“The monsoon rains take care of our agriculture for the whole year. We can grow our crops from that, and that’s what we eat. But for the past three or four years the monsoon rains have been getting less. This year it hasn’t rained at all,” says landowner Durga Prasad Giri.

For the past month and a half it has not rained enough in Jharkhand for the rice crop to grow. And as it needs large amounts of water to grow, farmers say it is now too late to save the crop.

“Even if it starts to rain now, we will not get any crop. There is a deadline for the rice to start growing – that is till the middle of August. And that time has now passed. So we will not have any crop this year,” says farmer Mohammed Ansari.

With this region growing only one crop a year, farmers are now left with no prospect of food and livelihood for the coming year. The state government does provide food aid to families below the poverty line, but only one in three have the necessary “red card” to access it.

Local officials realize the scale of the problem but say they need funds from the central government.

“This is the first time we've faced a severe drought situation, so people are not used to it – neither the general public, nor government officials. We have requested the emergencies team which visited Dhanbad last week, to provide food grain,” says Ajay Kumar Singh, Deputy Commissioner for Dhanbad district in Jharkhand.

Meanwhile, that is little consolation for farmer Sanjay Baori and his family. The 27-year-old farmer has to work as a daily laborer to feed his family, and even then all they get to eat most days is plain rice.

“We don’t know how to get a red card. Some government officials come here and demand bribes from us to get a card. They say: if you give us money, we’ll give you a red card. We don’t have food to eat, how can we pay them any money? We’re eating rice and salt to fill our stomachs,” Sanjay Baori says.

With India expected to produce 10 million tonnes less rice than usual this year, and food prices set to escalate, the plight of the country’s poorest farmers like Sanjay will be the biggest concern.

Unless the wheels of the state turn quickly, the failure of nature could well turn into a man-made tragedy.