Contingency plan for Bihar’s flood-hit farmers

September 25th, 2008 - 4:19 pm ICT by IANS  

Patna, Sep 25 (IANS) Cultivating mustard in areas with sandy soil and sowing paddy instead of wheat are some of the suggestions in the contingency plan for flood hit Bihar prepared by India’s top agriculture research body. With the Kosi river overflowing its banks and flooding large swathes of Bihar, the Patna based eastern zonal centre of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has evolved a plan for farmers to deal with the crisis.

Unlike other rivers that bring fertile silt, the Kosi river brings with it coarse sand and gravel that make the land barren.

“We have submitted a plan to the state government for timely action,” an official at the ICAR centre here said.

The ICAR’s plan suggests adopting a graded approach to different types of post flood contingencies. It has also recommended measures to maximise yields of regular crops like wheat, maize and sugarcane in the flood affected areas.

According to the ICAR centre, farmers should cultivate pulses in the time available before the rabi crop in areas where sandy or loamy soil has been left behind.

Cultivation of mustard would be the right option in areas which have sandy soil but are likely to see floodwater draining only after a while.

The plan suggests that farmers sow a special variety of paddy instead of wheat if the waters fail to recede completely by rabi season.

Agriculture scientists said the Kosi waters are receding but the damage wrought on agriculture land would be known only after the waters drain out completely.

The possibility of vast farmlands turning barren looms large as the Kosi river, which changed course over four weeks ago killing over 50 people and affecting over 3.1 million people, is leaving behind a trail of sand in fertile soil.

The state agriculture department has estimated that standing crops in large parts of Madhepura, Supaul, Saharsa, Araria and Purnea districts have been destroyed.

“The standing crops including paddy, maize are gone, there is no chance of their survival,” an official said.

M.A. Khan, director of ICAR in Patna, is busy with his team of scientists to study the damage. “It will be difficult to say how much damage the floods have caused until the waters recede fully.”

He said productivity loss due to large agricultural lands turning into sand dunes could be obviated to an extent by using quality seeds.

Farmers would have to diversify into horticulture to bridge the loss of incomes, Khan added.

With fears that a large amount of sand had accumulated on agricultural land in the flood-affected districts, the government plans to begin soil testing from 25 samples collected from affected villages.

“This will tell us the ground reality whether the farmlands will turn barren or if agriculture will be possible,” Agriculture Minister Nagmani said here.

Over 3.1 million people and nearly one million cattle have been affected by the floods triggered by the Kosi river following a breach in an embankment upstream in Nepal Aug 18. Nearly 300,000 houses are believed to have been damaged.

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