Nagaland Likely to Face Severe Drought After 10 Years Due to Delayed Rainfall
Deficient rains and climate change have triggered a drought-like situation in Nagaland, as farmers struggle with worm-infested crops and dried-out fields and rivers. These conditions, similar to the drought in 2009, impact farmers and their livelihoods, along with disrupting food production across the state.
Almost 70% of the state’s farmers are involved in jhum cultivation. Also called “shifting cultivation,” the practice involves cutting and burning of felled trees on forest patches, followed by using that field for farming. This year, delayed rains have affected about 915 villages, which include around 68,662 hectares of jhum fields and 525 hectares of horticultural crops, according to official data.
In addition to the jhum fields, the remaining 30% of cultivation that happens in the form of terraced fields was also affected, causing delays in land preparation and sowing. Between January to May this year, rainfall largely reduced in districts like Dimapur, Kiphire, Kohima, Phek, Tuensang, Zunheboto, Wokha, Longleng, and Mokokchung, according to data compiled by the Nagaland State Disaster Management Authority.
The state’s agriculture minister G. Kaito Aye called this a “peculiar” year, noting that the situation will become severe if it doesn’t rain until July. He added that the state’s focus is on searching for water, as scarcity has resulted in “another pandemic.”
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If the present dry spell continues, the rice production in the state will reduce by 70%. The situation was further aggravated due to infestation by fall armyworm (FAW). The FAW not only destroys maize crops but is also likely to affect vegetables and paddy crops. This year, it has affected 3048.45 hectares of maize crop in 334 villages, according to the Agriculture Production Commissioner Kikheto Sema.
While the infestation happens every May, this year it began early in March. M. Ben Yanthan, director of the Agriculture Department, told EastMojo that the early infestation could be due to a change in climatic conditions.
In 2019, while a large part of India faced drought-like conditions, researchers observed excessive rainfall led to floods in 256 districts across 13 states. The extended spell of erratic monsoon rains and resulting water shortage is a growing concern, leading to the country running short of the commodity most fundamental to human life and sustenance. A separate study showed flash droughts are set to increase in India — posing a risk to agriculture, ecosystems. and water availability.
This crisis is yet another example of climate change and how it alters the ecological balance, impacting the most vulnerable. “It has been well documented that a poor farmer takes three to four years to recover from a drought, depending on the severity,” Down to Earth noted. In 2009, when states across India faced one of the most severe droughts in 35 years, almost 400 million people were impacted — particularly across northeastern states like Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, and Tripura. In 2019, the Manipur government wrote a letter to the Union government for assistance as it faced similar drought-like conditions.
For now, the government is focusing efforts to minimize crop loss and compensate farmers for the anticipated loss by distributing seeds that can be sown in the early rabi season from September. Other measures include incorporating technology in farming activities, focusing on water conservation efforts, building check dams, and practicing rainwater harvesting, Kikheto Sema notes. The Nagaland government has sought assistance from the center.
In the long run, experts point to the need for a climate-resilient agriculture model, particularly important in states with fragile ecosystems. “Studies of India’s drought management approaches over the last several decades reveal that the country largely depended on crisis management approaches. However, based on the experience of tackling the 1966 drought-induced food crisis, serious efforts were made to replace ad hoc crisis management with an anticipatory drought management approach,” Richard Mahapatra writes in Down to Earth.
Dolly Kikon, an anthropologist from Nagaland, sums up the severity of the situation: “With climate change, Himalayan states like Nagaland face a difficult agricultural future… In 2021, the state experiences drought again. A pandemic crop failure for Naga cultivators is beyond devastating.”