Unit 1 - Introduction, Types and History of Rainfed Agriculture and Watershed Management

Unit 1 - Rainfed Agriculture and Watershed Management

Table of Contents
Rainfed agriculture: Introduction
Types of Rainfed Agriculture
History of rainfed agriculture & watershed in India

Rainfed agriculture: Introduction

Rainfed agriculture refers to a type of farming system that relies predominantly on rainfall for crop production, without the use of supplemental irrigation. It is practiced in regions where the availability of water is limited, and the success of agricultural activities is largely dependent on the timing, amount, and distribution of rainfall.

Rainfed agriculture plays a crucial role in global food production, as it supports the livelihoods of millions of farmers worldwide. In addition, rainfed agriculture helps to sustain rural livelihoods and ecosystems.

Key Points to Know:

  1. Importance of Rainfed Agriculture:
    • Rainfed agriculture covers a significant portion of the world's agricultural land, particularly in arid and semi-arid regions.
    • It contributes to food security by providing staple crops and diverse agricultural products.
    • Rainfed farming systems often preserve biodiversity and natural resources, as they are less intensive than irrigated agriculture.
    • It supports the livelihoods of small-scale farmers and rural communities, particularly in developing countries.
  2. Challenges in Rainfed Agriculture:
    • Rainfall variability: Rainfed agriculture is highly vulnerable to erratic rainfall patterns, leading to uncertainties in crop yields.
    • Water scarcity: Limited water availability can result in water stress, affecting crop growth and productivity.
    • Soil erosion: Without adequate water management practices, rainfed areas are prone to soil erosion, leading to decreased soil fertility and productivity.
    • Climate change: Changing climatic conditions, such as prolonged droughts or extreme rainfall events, pose additional challenges to rainfed agriculture.
  3. Sustainable Rainfed Agriculture Practices:
    • Conservation agriculture: Adopting practices like minimum tillage, crop residue retention, and cover cropping helps improve soil health, reduce erosion, and conserve moisture.
    • Water harvesting and management: Techniques like building check dams, contour bunds, and farm ponds can capture and store rainwater for agricultural use during dry periods.
    • Crop diversification: Growing a variety of crops suited to the local climate and soil conditions helps spread risks and optimize resource utilization.
    • Agroforestry: Integrating trees with crops helps improve soil fertility, conserve water, provide shade, and diversify income sources.
  4. Government Policies and Support:
    • Governments can play a crucial role in promoting rainfed agriculture through policies that prioritize investments, research, and development in rainfed farming systems.
    • Providing financial assistance, training programs, and access to modern agricultural technologies can empower farmers to enhance their productivity and resilience.
    • Creating market linkages and value chains for rainfed agricultural produce can improve the economic prospects for farmers.
  5. Research and Innovation:
    • Continuous research and innovation are essential to develop improved crop varieties, drought-tolerant hybrids, and sustainable farming practices suitable for rainfed agriculture.
    • Remote sensing technologies and weather forecasting systems can aid in predicting rainfall patterns and optimizing farming operations.
    • Knowledge-sharing platforms and extension services play a vital role in disseminating information and best practices among farmers.

There are a number of practices that can be used to improve the productivity of rainfed agriculture. These practices include:

  • Soil conservation: Soil conservation practices help to protect the soil from erosion, which can help to improve water infiltration and reduce the risk of drought.
  • Water conservation: Water conservation practices help to capture and store rainwater, which can help to ensure that there is enough water for crops during dry periods.
  • Crop diversification: Crop diversification helps to reduce the risk of crop failure due to pests, diseases, or weather events.
  • Integrated pest management: Integrated pest management (IPM) is a pest management strategy that uses a combination of biological, chemical, and cultural methods to control pests. IPM can help to reduce the use of pesticides, which can improve the health of farmers and the environment.

Types of Rainfed Agriculture

Rainfed agriculture encompasses various types of farming systems that rely on rainfall as the primary source of water for crop production. Understanding the different types of rainfed agriculture is essential to comprehend the diverse practices and challenges associated with each type. 

Three important Types:

  1. Dry farming
  • Annual Rainfall < 750mm
  • Arid regions
  • Crop failure is most common.
  • Crop growing days 75 days.
  • Moisture conservation practices are must.
  1. Dry land farming
  • Annual Rainfall 750-1150mm
  • Semi-arid regions.
  • Crop failure are less frequent.
  • Crop period 75-120 days
  1. Rainfed farming

  • Annual Rainfall > 1150mm
  • Humid regions.
  • No crop failure.
  • Crop period > 120 days

Here are some of the common types of rainfed agriculture:

  1. Dryland Agriculture
    • Dryland agriculture refers to rainfed farming practiced in arid and semi-arid regions with limited and unpredictable rainfall.
    • Crops in dryland agriculture are specifically adapted to survive in water-limited conditions, such as millets, sorghum, pulses, and certain varieties of wheat and barley.
    • Farmers in dryland areas employ techniques like conservation tillage, moisture conservation, and crop rotation to optimize water use efficiency and conserve soil moisture.
  2. Hill Agriculture:
    • Hill agriculture involves rainfed farming in hilly or mountainous regions, characterized by steep slopes and diverse agro-climatic conditions.
    • Farmers in hilly areas cultivate crops suited to the local climate and altitude, such as maize, potatoes, fruits, and vegetables.
    • Terracing, contour farming, and agroforestry practices are commonly used in hill agriculture to prevent soil erosion, improve water retention, and optimize land use.
  3. Rainfed Rice Farming:
    • Rainfed rice farming is primarily practiced in regions with high rainfall but without access to irrigation facilities.
    • Varieties of rice that are tolerant to varying water availability, such as upland or rainfed lowland rice, are grown in these areas.
    • Water management techniques, including puddling the soil, intermittent flooding, and alternate wetting and drying, are employed to optimize water use and enhance rice productivity.
  4. Rainfed Horticulture:
    • Rainfed horticulture involves the cultivation of fruits, vegetables, and other high-value crops that rely on rainfall for their water requirements.
    • Depending on the local climatic conditions, specific horticultural crops like mangoes, citrus fruits, tomatoes, and onions are grown.
    • Farmers may implement practices like mulching, micro-irrigation, and soil moisture conservation to minimize water stress and maintain crop quality.
  5. Agroforestry in Rainfed Systems:
    • Agroforestry integrates trees with agricultural crops in rainfed areas to optimize resource use and enhance sustainability.
    • Trees provide multiple benefits such as shade, windbreaks, soil improvement, and additional income sources from timber, fruits, or medicinal products.
    • Agroforestry systems contribute to improved water infiltration, reduced soil erosion, and increased biodiversity in rainfed landscapes.

History of rainfed agriculture & watershed in India

Rainfed agriculture and watershed management has been practiced in India for centuries. The agricultural practices and water management techniques evolved over time, shaped by the diverse geographical and climatic conditions of the country. Here is an overview of the history of rainfed agriculture and watershed management in India:

  1. Ancient and Medieval Periods:
    • Ancient Indian civilizations, such as the Indus Valley Civilization and the Vedic period, practiced agriculture in rainfed regions. The earliest evidence of rainfed agriculture in India dates back to the Indus Valley Civilization (3300-1900 BCE).
    • Traditional farming systems focused on water conservation and soil fertility enhancement. Techniques like contour ploughing, bunding, and terracing were employed to manage rainfall runoff and prevent soil erosion.
    • Stepwells (baolis) and tanks (talaabs) were constructed to store rainwater for irrigation during dry periods.
    • After the decline of the Indus Valley Civilization, rainfed agriculture continued to be practiced in India.
    • During the medieval period, agricultural practices continued to evolve, with the adoption of crop rotation, mixed cropping, and agroforestry systems.
    • However, the productivity of rainfed agriculture declined during the Mughal period (1526-1857). This was due to a number of factors, including the decline of irrigation systems, the deforestation of the Ganges River basin, and the increasing population.
  2. Colonial Era:
    • The British colonial period witnessed significant changes in land use and agricultural practices.
    • Large-scale deforestation, commercial agriculture, and monoculture plantations led to ecological degradation and soil erosion in many parts of the country.
    • The British introduced modern irrigation systems, such as canal networks and dams, but these were predominantly focused on irrigated agriculture rather than rainfed regions.
    • The British colonial government made some efforts to improve rainfed agriculture in India. However, these efforts were largely unsuccessful.
  3. Post-Independence:
    • After gaining independence in 1947, the Indian government recognized the importance of rainfed agriculture and watershed management for rural development and food security.
    • The central government and state governments initiated various programs and policies to promote rainfed agriculture and address water scarcity.
    • Watershed development programs, such as the National Watershed Development Project for Rainfed Areas (NWDPRA), Drought Prone Areas Programme (DPAP) and Integrated Watershed Management Program (IWMP), were launched to conserve rainwater, restore degraded lands, and improve agricultural productivity in rainfed regions.
    • These programs have had some success in improving the productivity of rainfed agriculture in India. However, there is still much work to be done. Rainfed agriculture is still a major challenge in India, and it is estimated that over 600 million people in India depend on rainfed agriculture for their livelihoods.
    • Emphasis was placed on soil and water conservation practices, afforestation, contour ploughing, contour bunding, check dams, and farm ponds.
  4. Technological Advancements:
    • With the advancement of technology and scientific research, innovations were introduced to improve rainfed agriculture and watershed management.
    • Improved crop varieties, hybrid seeds, and drought-tolerant crops were developed to enhance productivity in rainfed areas.
    • Modern techniques like remote sensing, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and weather forecasting have been utilized to monitor rainfall patterns, optimize water resource management, and plan agricultural activities.
  5. Current Initiatives:
    • Currently, the Indian government continues to prioritize rainfed agriculture and watershed management through various schemes and programs.
    • The Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY) aims to improve water use efficiency, promote micro-irrigation, and enhance water availability for rainfed areas.
    • The National Rainfed Area Authority (NRAA) was established to coordinate and implement programs related to rainfed agriculture.
    • Sustainable farming practices, organic farming, and climate-resilient agriculture are gaining momentum in rainfed regions.

Here are some of the challenges and opportunities facing rainfed agriculture and watershed management in India:

  • Challenges:

    • Variability of rainfall
    • Poor soil quality
    • Lack of access to irrigation
    • Increasing population
    • Climate change
  • Opportunities:

    • Government investment
    • Technological advancements
    • Increasing awareness of the importance of rainfed agriculture

📚 For comprehensive notes on other chapters of rainfed and dryland agriculture, please visit the website Agricorn - Rainfed and Dryland Agriculture.

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