Written By : Pranab Ranjan Choudhury, Vice President, Center for Land Governance


Eco System of Drought



As drought this year touches lives of a quarter of the population of India (in 255,923 villages in 254 districts in 10 states)[1] and debates over drought preparedness and development priorities by the Centre and states contested in media and questioned by the courts (viz. the row over IPL match in Maharashtra), this paper attempts a better understanding of the changing ‘drought ecosystems’ of poor farmers in India and explore whether ‘living with drought’ is possible drawing lessons from the regional adaptive traditions and by questioning  the mainstream agricultural trends. 


Drought: A Fact and Reality

A hydro-meteorological manifestation[2], drought is a natural phenomenon, as natural is the climate and its variability. In a country like India, when rainfed agriculture is the dominant food production system and land use, drought remains inherent accompanier of farmer, society and economy[3].  Irrigated agriculture is no different, as most of the irrigation systems being surface water- based with links to precipitation.


In the context of climate change, as rainfall is predicted to be more variable in India and dry regions becoming drier, extreme and intense drought events with higher frequencies[4] are expected.  Whether it would be meteorological drought, hydrological drought and agricultural drought, it would, depend upon, causation shifting from rainfall deficiencies through run off deficiencies to the availability of water for crops in the growing season[5].


Making of a Drought: The Human Influence

While drought remains a natural ‘phenomenon’ and technically an event, what makes it a ‘disaster’ or matter of concern, is a combination of factors, which are often man-made.  Not denying the fact that there are extreme and perennial droughts, impacts of which may be disconnected from anthropological connection, the fact remains that ‘droughts’ are often man-made. Severe droughts, being experienced of late, can no longer be seen as purely natural hazards, because human activities play a role.  Understanding and managing drought require acceptance of human influence as integral to drought as natural climate variability.  (Van Loon et al, 2016)[6]


Understanding Drought: Proposing a Multidimensional Framework Lens

Premised on an acceptance that drought would remain a companion of Indian Agriculture in this profoundly human-influenced era, the Anthropocene[7], this paper, attempts to explore, if its impact can be minimized on agriculture, food production, rural India and more importantly on the millions of small and marginal farmers, who are most affected by it, through a better multidimensional understanding.


Keeping in forefront the millions of farmers who bear the burnt, this paper adopts a human-angle to propose a comprehensive ‘Ecosystem Framework’ to understand and analyze the drought vulnerabilities of poor, especially the small and marginal farmers in Indian context.  More particularly, it seeks to examine, whether such vulnerabilities have accentuated of late in the liberalized anthropocene, as a result of the development pathway that have been adopted in general[8] and its influence on agriculture sector in particular around policy, research, extension and market.


Ecosystem of drought vulnerability framed here, attempts to understand the small farmer’s environment in holistic, multidisciplinary perspectives to analyze, how the social, economical and ecological environment around it has changed along with the political and cultural mileu of late and whether the changes have induced higher vulnerabilities? As drought could most usefully be characterized by its impact on the poor farming community and their ecosystem/landscape, this framework argue that ecosystem of drought framework probably can help better appreciation of the quantum of its impact.




[1] http://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/330000000-People-Drought-Hit-in-India/2016/04/20/article3389262.ece

[2] A drought is a period of below-average precipitation in a given region, resulting in prolonged shortages in its water supply, whether atmospheric, surface or ground water; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drought#Erosion_and_human_activities

[3] The agricultural sector lies at the core of Indian society. Sixty percent of the population works in agriculture, and it accounts for roughly a fifth of the country’s gross domestic product. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/indias-drought-highlights-challenges-climate-change-adaptation/

[4] http://www.huffingtonpost.in/2016/04/08/maharashtra-drought_n_9636012.html

[5] http://www.ceh.ac.uk/news-and-media/blogs/what-drought

[6] http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v9/n2/full/ngeo2646.html

[7] The Anthropocene defines Earth’s most recent geologic time period as being human-influenced, or anthropogenic, based on overwhelming global evidence that atmospheric, geologic, hydrologic, biospheric and other earth system processes are now altered by humans. http://www.anthropocene.info

[8] viz. Increasing water foot prints of modern life style and un-adaptive water use in water-scarce/deficit ecosystems requiring massive transfer of actual and virtual water among ecosysyems leading to dying of rivers, depletion of ground water and making situations more vulnerable when drought comes.




This was published in Perspective – A Drought Special Edition. You can read  it  here We are in Drought