The term Rainfed farming is used to describe farming practices that rely on rainfall for irrigation.

Status of Rainfed Farming in India

About 61 per cent of India’s farmers rely on rain-fed agriculture and 55 per cent of the gross cropped area is under rain-fed farming.

India ranks first among the rainfed countries in the world in terms of area, but counts amongst the lowest in rainfed yields (<1 ton/ha). As high as 78 m.ha. accounting for 64 per cent of the country’s net sown area is rainfed.

These areas are home to majority of rural poor and marginal farmers, and they encounter multiple risks and uncertainties relating to bio-physical and socio-economic conditions.

84 % of rural poor with high density of tribal population live in rainfed areas and the present agriculture policy and program design excludes much of these areas. These areas are characterized by poverty, malnutrition, water scarcity, severe land degradation, lower yields, low investments and poor physical and social infrastructure.

Further, rainfed areas are more vulnerable to climatic variability and climate change implications due to their poor capacity to cope with extreme water and weather shocks.

Over the years, farmers in rain-fed areas have been facing several adversities such as climate variability, crop failure, non-remunerative prices, etc. Rain-fed agriculture has historically been at the receiving end of imbalances in terms of policy and pubic investments.

Despite all these, rain-fed areas contributed significantly to the country’s food production. They account for 89 per cent of millets production, 88 per cent of pulses, 73 per cent of cotton, 69 per cent of oilseeds and 40 per cent rice production in the country.

Besides, rain-fed areas support 64 per cent of cattle, 74 per cent of sheep and 78 per cent of goat population in the country.

Understanding Rainfed Agriculture in India statistics for exams

Policy bias towards Rainfed areas

Three out of five farmers in India grow their crops using rainwater, instead of irrigation. While the average yield in rain-fed areas is about 1.1 tonnes per hectare, that in irrigated areas is about 2.8 tonnes per hectare.

When it comes to procurement, over the decade between 2001-02 and 2011-12, the government spent ₹5.4 lakh crore on wheat and rice. Coarse cereals, which are grown in rain-fed areas, only had ₹3,200 crore worth of procurement in the same period.

It’s not just the quantum, but also the nature of investment that needs to change. Flagship government schemes, such as seed and fertiliser subsidies and soil health cards, are designed for irrigated areas and simply extended to rain-fed farmers without taking their needs into consideration.

For example, many hybrid seeds notified by the government scheme need plenty of water, fertiliser and pesticides to give high yields and are thus not useful to most rain-fed farmers. Commercial fertilisers will simply burn out the soil without sufficient water.

While farmers in irrigated areas earn 60 per cent of their income from agriculture, their counterparts in rain-fed areas earn only 20-30 per cent from farm-related activities,” said Ashok Dalwai, CEO of the National Rain-fed Area Authority (NRAA), while addressing a national convention on revitalising rain-fed agriculture.

Taking it forward

More balanced approach is needed, to give rain-fed farmers the same research and technology focus, and production support that their counterparts in irrigation areas have received over the last few decades.

Cash incentives and income support like the PM-KISAN scheme announced in the budget 2019 were better than extensive procurement. Because procurement is always focused on irrigated farmers, but income support is unbiased to all farmers.

The first-ever rain-fed atlas of the country released by Revitalising Rain-fed Agriculture Network, captured the rich agri bio-diversity and socio-economic conditions of farmers living in these regions. This should be utilized in scientific planning of these areas to develop ‘area specific’ farming systems to make agriculture sustainable and profitable.

Implement “Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojna” (PMKSY), so as to bring focus on cluster based irrigation chain development in these vulnerable areas. It should also converge with MGNREGS for creation and maintainance of water source to full potential in identified backward rainfed blocks including renovation of traditional water bodies.

Thus there requires a serious attention towards Rainfed areas in India as it not only focus on livelihood of drought ridden farmers but also ensure food security to nation and eradicate poverty and malnutrition of deprived rural populations of India.


Further reading :

The National Rainfed Area Authority (NRAA) :

Revitalising Rainfed Agriculture Network

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For your practice: 

New rainfed agriculture atlas has been released recently. It has been released by

A. Revitalising Rainfed Agriculture (RRA) Network.
B. National Rainfed Agriculture Authority
C. Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers welfare
D. Ministry of Rural development