Agrarian crisis looms as unprecedented drought hits Ukhrul villages
Source: Chronicle News Service / R Lester Makang

Ukhrul, July 15 2021: Hundreds of farmers in Ukhrul district's Chingjaroi village are currently caught in the grip of agrarian crisis as an unprecedented droughtlike situation has forced them to forego the annual rice (trans) plantation - their only means of livelihood.

Similar situation has also been reported in other neighbouring Kuingai, Razai and other villages.

Earlier this monsoon, some villages in the district's Raphei, northern region, reportedly witnessed a dry condition.

However, for Chingja-roi village and some neighbouring villages which happen to be worst-hit by the situation, there is no let-up in the prevailing dry spell.

It is only getting worse almost to the point of drought.

With the much-needed seasonal monsoon rainfalls missing amid searing temperature, most of the water sources like traditional rivers and streams which feed the irrigation canals are drying up, leaving large swaths of paddy fields and other arable lands miserably desiccated.

Even the laborious efforts the farmers put in in sowing and nurturing Matha (paddy saplings) have gone futile as the tender seedlings that were awaiting transplantation in June-July period, have all withered and died from the root for want of water.

Like the rest of the state, the economy of the district's rural community is largely dependent on farming and agricultural activities.

However, the prolonged dry spell has now put the villagers at risk of losing their only means of livelihood.

Monsoon in the district is a four month-long affair from July till October.

Much of the annual rainfall occurs during this period and the fate of the crops depends on the amount of rains during the season.

Going by its normal course, the monsoon rain should have covered all villages in the district by the month of July.

However, this is not so in the case of these Raphei villages which haven't received even a spiting of rains so far, even as the rest of the district has, more or less, received rainfalls of the seasonal monsoon.

Located about 90 km north of Ukhrul district headquarters, Chingjaroi is one of the district's biggest villages having around 1000 houses.

The village is comprised of three sister villages namely, Chingjaroi Khullen, Chingjaroi CV and Ngachaphung.

The village has 29 major paddy field sites, of which 26 sites are facing shortage of water, owing to depleting water sources in the face of the prolonged dry spell.

The parched paddy field sites included Rakola, Khankhapala, Tschiizanla, Ngarula, Kavatila, Ngalangla, Alinro, Kazankra, Kashapala, Raziila, Takula, Kavapala, Taruphula, Sasadan, Ngzeidan, Ralewkhra, Kaphusuila, Vonzie, Aranshela, Raling-hor, Ngsola, Ashezii, Shedievanpoda, Avanchiipo and Marala, Angdopa, Rachannikho Apo, Angdopa, Ashashi Apo, Tarozhu and others and they all have been rendered unusable for plantation for want of water this season.

"Agriculture is our only occupation.

Since this delay in monsoon rains has forced us to forego rice plantation this year, my family is very much worried about next year's feed for us.

We have no other alternative to secure our livelihood in the event of crop failure," said a 50-year-old woman AS Ningmila.

She said that the situation is adding to the hardships already brought on by prolonged lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

For another 60-year-old farmer SK Khalui, the main problem of his family in the event of crop failure, would be to meet their daily needs.

"Even in normal times, my family household being poor, is struggling to survive.

Now, what holds for us next year is unthinkable," he continued.

According to Khalui, missing the planting season due to delayed monsoon rains is a grave misfortune for his poor family.

"We are at the mercy of the monsoon rains but now, even if the rains would come, things will be hard for us since our Matha/ seedlings have all withered and died due to lack of water," he lamented.

He said that if they are to give another try, then it would require them to sow the crop seeds all over again and that would take at least 30 days for the sprouts to come up.

Conveying the same sentiment, Chingjaroi Khullen youth president AS Roviso said that an unnatural dry spell was gripping their village for the first time in their village's history.

He said that the local farmers are running behind normal time for the seasonal transplantation and on top of this, rice seedlings have all withered under the heat of the sun.

"We are afraid that worse food stock and livelihood crisis awaits the villagers, unless the government immediately intervenes to salvage the grim situation," he said, appealing to the state government to look into the villagers' plights.

According to Roviso, among the ill-fated local farmers of Chingjaroi Khullen, around 100 households have not been able to sow even a single paddy plant in their fields because of the current dry conditions.

"The normal yield of rice from the fields approximately accounts for 36,500 tins and the value is around Rs 18,2,50,000," he said, adding that crop failure would be a huge loss for the villagers in terms of their economy.

In Chingjaroi CV, at least 30 numbers of cultivators have been listed as having failed to plant rice due to the drought-like situation this year.

"Shidewvan Apodo, which is among the largest field sites, is facing a worst fate without water.

The field is owned by around 160 cultivators and has a paddy yield of around 8000 tins annually," village secretary Rocky Soro said.

Facing the same harsh situation, more than 10 households could not plant even a single rice plant due to non-availability of water at Ching-jaroi Ngachaphung village, according to local headman Ngazek.

He continued that paddy crop failure would be a disastrous proposition for his villagers.

"Here in our village, agriculture is the main occupation and rice our staple food.

In such situation, it's hard to imagine sustaining a family for a year-long survival.

It would be an uphill task for the residents of Chingjaroi village," he said.

Expressing concerns over the abysmal state of affairs in their village, the village chiefs have appealed to the state government to immediately do the needful and arrange to reach out to the star-crossed villagers with humanitarian aid to ease their hardships and secure their livelihood.

Most of the fields used for paddy plantation in the villages are terraced type and these are the main paddy fields in the northern region.

Usually farmers prepare nurseries where the paddy seeds are first sown and raised into young plants elsewhere.

These seedlings are then uprooted and replanted in the main fields.

The villagers believed that June is the best time for replanting the seedlings.

In this process, monsoon rains play a significant role for survival of the plants.

The crop fields are completely dependent on the rains as irrigation sources also depend on rain waters.

As such, poor monsoon rains often result in crop failure which affects the annual yield.

On the other hand, it is found that with the exception of few, majority of field areas in the villages have poor irrigation system and there is a pressing need to improve the irrigation system so as to sustain the crops in times of unpredictable monsoon.

Many questions pop up as to whether this previously unseen drought-like condition is a sign of climate variability that is causing vagaries of monsoon.

Or a tangible impact of global warming disrupting rainfall patterns? Or closer still, a natural fallout of unbridled deforestation or loss of forest cover? Many more such questions and so on but without an answer.

The local farmers and villagers are equally clueless about the situation as they have never ever seen or experienced it before in their lifetime.

All they do know is that this phenomenon is being induced by the unusual delay in seasonal monsoon rains.

And so, perhaps, the only answer, available at the moment, to all these delves and expostulations is: unpredictable climate is really showing up for whichever reason(s) it is.

In effect, a situation is said to be a drought when it is unusually drier than normal conditions that can eventually lead to water shortage crisis.

The situation in Chingjaroi and neighbouring villages is certainly severe and could be a drought, if not, then certainly a precedence of one in near future.

Hence, it cannot be simply written off as an isolated phenomenon since it is happening only for the first time.

The situation at hand needs in-depth scientific researches to come up with the whys and the wherefores of the natural disaster so as to pre-empt another in future.

(This feature was written under 2nd State Level Media Fellowship on Climate Change Reporting of the Directorate of Environment & Climate Change, Manipur 2020-2021) .

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