Even if India were to achieve its full irrigation potential, approximately half of the cultivable area of 142 million hectares will still remain largely dependent on rainfall. It is also estimated that, by 2040, of an expected population of 1.5 billion, 500 million will live in rain-fed areas. In India, ensuring sustainability of rain-fed agriculture is therefore critical, more so in the scenario of climate change and the vulnerability of populations living in these areas.
Green revolution made the country self-sufficient in food but it bypassed the dryland areas, which have become the hot spots of poverty, hunger, malnutrition, water scarcity and land degradation. In India, 60% of total cultivated area is rainfed, which is dependent on rainfall, having no facility for protective or life-saving irrigation. Rainfed areas meet 40% of India’s food demands and support 60% of total livestock population. Agricultural productivity in rainfed areas has remained low and unstable due to vulnerability to the vagaries of weather, degraded soils and continuing poverty of farmers, who are mostly small and marginal.
Karnataka is a predominantly agrarian state wherein nearly 66% of the cultivated area is under rain-fed farming. The scope for increasing irrigation potential in the state is limited in view of its geographical position as an upper riparian State. A close analysis of rainfall pattern of the state indicates that 3 to 4 years in every decade face severe drought, sometimes consecutively. The drought frequency and vulnerability is increasing rapidly in the state. Out of 24 drought vulnerable districts in the country, 16 fall in Karnataka. Rainfall management to minimize runoff is essential for sustainability in the state.
Indian agriculture achieved near self sufficiency in primary agriculture (grains, sugar cane, fruits, vegetables and milk etc.) must now focus attention on secondary agriculture. The secondary agriculture provides value addition to agricultural products, creating facilities for primary processing and stress management in agriculture and adds value to the basic agro commodities to allow farmers to get better returns from their harvest. It also creates a new job in the rural sector to grow rural economy which is entirely based on agriculture. Secondary agriculture can reverse this trend and add two to three-fold value to primary agriculture. Efficiency of harvested runoff under dryland situation can be enhanced through protective cultivation and secondary agriculture.
As mentioned above, India might be at the cross roads of food and nutritional security, mainly due to climate change driven production constraints. This necessitates the needs for increasing agricultural production using modern tools and techniques. In the last couple of decades, rapid strides have been made in the development of a whole suite of technologies, ranging from biotechnological tools (that can attend to developing crops with higher yields) to bio-sensor tools (that can attend to an effective cultivation of crops).The use of precision breeding tools for trait improvement, models to forecast pest and diseases for their effective management, micro-biome/endophyte enrichment technologies for mitigating biotic and abiotic stresses, biosensors for effective cultivation of crops and judicious natural resources management, etc., are needed to sustain yield levels in major crops. This program supported by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) is addressing some of these major issues in a comprehensive interdisciplinary manner. Judicious application of modern tools and techniques could help in overcoming the current yield ceiling in many crops and in combating the challenges of increasing yield under stressful environments.
Based on the existing strengths and research leads, a program on Next Generation Technologies (NGT) in Adaptive Agriculture (AA) in specific areas has been initiated at the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore under the Centres for Advance Agriculture Science and Technology (CAAST) of the National Agricultural Higher Education Project (NAHEP) of ICAR. There are four major objectives in the NGT in AA program of UASB. Objective 1 which includes research component is divided into four activities. Further, objectives 2, 3 and 4 involve skill development, training and demonstrations including strengthening ongoing post-graduate programmes of the UASB. The four different thematic areas are, a) reduced runoff farming technologies for inclusive development of drylands under climatic distress, b) precision crop breeding including use of advanced genomic tools & introgressiomics, c) micro-biome (endophyte) enabled seed priming to modulate plant physiological processes and d) forecasting pest and disease outbreaks for effective management.