Dryland Farming in India: Meaning, Techniques, and Dry Farming Crops

Updated on 06th April, 2024, By Arpit Srivastava
Dryland Farming in India: Meaning, Techniques, and Dry Farming Crops
Dryland farming is prevalent in areas where there is limited, uncertain and ill-distributed rainfall. It is adopted to cultivate drought-tolerant crops. With advancements in technology, there is a need for improvements in dryland farming to achieve higher productivity and address key challenges.

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Dryland agriculture involves growing crops only with rainwater. The key characteristics of drylands include limited rainfall and water, lack of moisture availability and single crop/intercropping system. Drylands are sometimes interchangeably referred to as rainfed regions, as both depend on rainfall. Although they have certain similar attributes, they are vastly different. Dryland farming is usually practised in arid and semi-arid regions to cultivate drought-resistant crops.

Dryland Farming Definition and Meaning

Dryland agriculture means cultivating crops with rainfall as the only irrigation source. It is categorised into three types depending on the amount of rainfall received. As per the dry farming definition, it is done in regions that receive less than 750 mm of rainfall annually. Whereas dryland farming is specific to regions with more than 750 mm of rainfall. Lastly, rainfed farming is done in regions with over 1,150 mm of rainfall.

Features of Dryland Farming

In India, dryland farming accounts for a significant portion of the country's agricultural output. Its key features include:

  • Drylands are commonly characterised by low rainfall. Also, it is uncertain, highly erratic and unevenly distributed.
  • Several factors, such as loss of natural vegetation, soil texture and structure, and chemical degradation, cause land degradation.
  • Monocropping is extensively done, resulting in loss of nutrients and reduced yield.
  • Similar crops are grown in a specific region, so there is an oversupply in the market. So, farmers do not receive a high payout for their crops, and thus, their economic condition is low.
  • Drylands experience extreme climatic hazards, such as droughts, that lead to less water availability and low productivity.

Dryland Farming in India

Dryland farming is an ancient practice that was also practised in the Indus Valley Civilization. Farmers grew crops on terraced fields to harvest and conserve rainwater. Today, dry farming techniques have evolved to increase the water use efficiency. The government supports several programmes to reduce investment in water management, including watershed and rainwater harvesting programmes.

CRIDA, or Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture, started the All India Coordinated Research Project for Dryland Agriculture (AICRPDA) in 2018. This project is under the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and involves the development of improved dryland technologies and watershed-based development.

In India, 130 districts are identified as dry farming regions. Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Chhattisgarh cover 91 districts, while the remaining districts are located in the Western Ghats (rain shadow region), Central Rajasthan and Saurashtra region of Gujarat. Also, major dryland crops include pulses, rapeseed, ragi, bajra and jowar.

Problems of Dryland Farming

Dryland crops are known for uncertain and low yields. It is mainly because of the following reasons:

  • The soil is less fertile due to soil and moisture problems. This is due to issues like soil degradation, soil erosion, and salinisation.
  • Due to low rainfall, there is uncertain crop yield. During the crop period, there is uneven rainfall distribution. So, the crops get more rainwater when there is no need.
  • There are prolonged dry spells, which reduce crop growth. Also, it results in low moisture retention capacity in coarse-textured and red soils.
  • Chemical fertilisers cannot be used extensively to increase soil fertility as soil moisture is inadequate.

Dryland Farming Techniques

There are several dry farming techniques that are used to reduce water runoff, evaporation and transpiration losses. Some of the most common techniques are as follows:

  • Bunding: This practice is considered one of the most important steps in dryland farming. It involves surveying the land and determining level contours. Bunding results in improved water infiltration and soil moisture due to slower water runoff.
  • Tillage: It involves preparing the soil for the cultivation of crops. Tillage opens up the surface soil to facilitate water entry through it. Conservation tillage minimises soil disturbance and helps to conserve water and prevent soil erosion.
  • Mulching: This technique reduces evaporation losses by covering the surface with organic materials like grass and straw. Mulches conserve more moisture when there is frequent rainfall. Mulching also has additional benefits like weed control, reduced soil salinity and soil conservation.
  • Fallowing: In this practice, nothing is sown on the land for at least one vegetative cycle. During this period, the moisture is stored, which can help grow crops post rainy season. Also, it allows the land to recover and store organic matter.
  • Strip Cropping: The main benefits of strip cropping include increased water absorption and erosion control. Thus, it helps to maintain soil fertility. Several practices are involved in this technique, including stubble mulching, contour cultivation and crop rotation.

Government Initiatives for Dryland Farming

Some of the major steps taken by the government to improve dryland farming include:

  • In 1983, ICAR started the All India Coordinated Research Project on Agrometeorology (AICRPAM) to research key themes like the impact of weather on diseases and pests, crop-weather modelling, crop-weather relationships, agromet advisory services and agroclimatic characterisation.
  • National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture has implemented the Centrally Sponsored Scheme of Rainfed Area Development (RAD) Programme.
  • CRIDA has established modern facilities to study climate change and improve dryland agriculture. It has formed a dryland research network nationwide with 31 AICRPDA centres in 17 states.
  • 24 districts drought proofing plans and 650 District Agricultural Contingency Plans (DACPs) were prepared by CRIDA with the association of the National Agricultural Research Extension & Education System (NAREES). 

Way Forward

Small and marginal farmers form the major population involved in dryland farming. Thus, there is a need for improvements in this farming method to improve their economic status and alleviate poverty. Due to the rapidly increasing population and fluctuation in the production of food grains, dryland farming has become more critical.

India is a huge importer of vegetable oils. Oilseed production in the dry regions can be improved using technologies that save key foreign exchange reserves. Dryland areas majorly grow crops like ragi, bajra and jowar. If their productivity increases, people in these areas can get nutrient-dense cereals.

There is a huge scope for fodder production in marginal lands of the semi-arid regions. Feeding the cattle population is an important aspect of farming in drylands. Also, the production of food grains can be increased in dryland areas. It would improve the country's agriculture-dependent economy and address the challenges of malnutrition and hunger.

Frequently Asked Questions on Dryland Farming in India: Meaning, Techniques, and Dry Farming Crops

1. What is dryland farming?

Dryland farming is a farming method in arid and semi-arid regions that grows drought-resistant crops without irrigation.

Dryland farming is done in areas that lack soil moisture due to low rainfall. On the other hand, wetland farming has excess moisture due to heavy rainfall.

Dryland farming methods include bunding, tillage, mulching, fallowing and strip cropping.

Dryland farming is suitable for crops like pulses, rapeseed, ragi, jowar and bajra.

Arpit Srivastava
Published By
Arpit Srivastava
Arpit holds a B.Tech degree in Electronics and Communication Engineering from Babu Banarasi Das Northern India Institute of Technology. He is a professional content writer having skillset of writing top quality research based content for various niche and industries. With over 7 years of experience, he holds expertise in writing SEO-friendly content on a wide range of topics related to agriculture, tractors, and farm implements. In his free time, he loves to explore new places, try different cuisines, and play sports like cricket and badminton.
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