India: Arid western plain zone, Thar Desert

Introduction

© T.K. Bhati
Agriculture in arable arid land of Thar desert, India

The hot arid western region of India (19.08 million ha) is situated mostly in the western part of Rajasthan state (61%). The arid region receives <450 mm annual rainfall with a 40 % to 60 % coefficient of variation.

Evapotranspiration is four to five times higher than that of rainfall in the region, which explains the severe aridity, the deficit water balance, water scarcity, and the problems of potable water, which are by far more severe in the arid region. Natural resources such as water, land and vegetation in arid regions are very fragile and partly non-resilient, hence they are prone to irreversible land degradation and desertification under the excessive pressure exerted by human and livestock populations.

Based on climatic, edaphic and terrain characteristics, the region has been further subdivided into three sub-zones: zone I: an arid western plain (12.42 million ha); zone II: a transitional plain of inland drainage (3.70 million ha); and zone III: a transitional plain of Luni basin (2.97 million ha).

There is a distinct rainfall gradient from east to west that is best reflected in the arid western plain where the mean annual rainfall varies from 100 mm, in the westernmost part of Jaisalmer district, to 370 mm in the east of Jodhpur; most of it falls during July-September. To tackle these problems,  Phase II of the SUMAMAD project is being implemented in two-rainfall situations: (a) crop diversification studies for arable farming under 200-400 mm rainfall in the region, and (b) rangeland and runoff farming studies for <200 mm rainfall in the region.

Project objectives

© T.K. Bhati
Interactive discussion with farmers at Bhujawar village

All the issues encountered in arid western India have been addressed under the project, which has four main objectives:

1. To foster dryland research in the region.

2. To formulate policy documents in order to mitigate future climate change impacts.

3. To promote the economic livelihood of the region through alternate income generation.

4. To introduce capacity-building for farmers and researchers on land degradation issues in the drylands.

Results

© T.K. Bhati
Animal health camp at Bhujawar village

The project team is conducting experiments on improved varieties of dryland crops via Integrated Nutrient Management (INM); analyzing the performance of an improved single slot weeding tool (kassi); constructing field and contour bunds in order to reduce soil erosion and encourage uniform water distribution in the field; conducting hydrological and yield observations; constructing runoff collectors and observing the rainfall-runoff relationship; classifying soil and assessing soil health; and, conducting an experiment of planting fruit plants as a water conservation method for use in the khadin.

In terms of policy guidelines, the Central Arid Zone Research Institute (CAZRI) had made interventions in collaboration with the SUMAMAD project that include: scenarios of farming systems in hot, arid regions of India; highlights of expected climate change impacts (changes in rainfall, temperatures) and their likely effects on farming systems; modeling of wind and water erosion processes; the development and management of rangelands; planning based on approaches to livelihoods promotion; and, policy interventions.

Improved varieties of dryland crops

Alternative income generation opportunities were created including: applying gum inducer to trees for increased gum production; increasing the growth of the local  ber and khejri trees through in situ budding; enhancing milk production of goats through supplementation of vitamins and minerals through a nutrient mixture; enriching fodder quality through urea treatment; and, installing animal feed solar cookers.

A number of training opportunities were also provided to local communities through field visits and interactive discussions with local farmers on pasture development and management, and through animal health camps.

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