Bangalore/ Hyderabad: Faced with a weak southwest monsoon after four years of copious rain, the southern states of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are hoping to tackle a looming farm crisis and power shortage through cloud seeding.
Already, insufficient rainfall has caused a drastic dip of nearly 78% in the acreage of kharif crop sowing in Andhra Pradesh while 101 of the 176 talukas, or sub-districts, in Karnataka are on the verge of being declared as drought-hit. Depleting reservoir levels in both states are also emerging as a worry because they depend largely on hydropower for their energy needs.
The rainfall deficit reached 72% in the last two weeks of June, due to prolonged dry spells, said S. Srinivasulu, commissioner and director of agriculture, Andhra Pradesh.
As a result, sowing acreage for almost all crops suffered a major decline in the current monsoon season, he said.
“Delayed monsoons and agriculture labour shortage have forced us to shift from lucrative crops such as turmeric to short-duration and less-water-intensive crops such as soya bean and cotton,” said Nereddy Poshanna, a small farmer in Chityal village of Nizamabad district in Andhra Pradesh.
While Andhra Pradesh will begin its cloud-seeding programme, called Meghamadhanam, in the next five days, Karnataka is yet to firm up plans for it though the state cabinet last week decided to take the step if the monsoon continued to be weak.
“If there are no rains over the next few weeks, we will consult experts on whether cloud seeding would be feasible,” said V.S. Acharya, Karnataka’s home minister who is part of a three-member committee of ministers monitoring the state’s energy situation. The Karnataka government also plans to demand that the Union government raises the quantum of power allocated to it. Karnataka last effected a cloud-seeding programme in 2003 when most parts of the state were affected by drought.
Last year, Andhra Pradesh spent Rs25 crore on cloud seeding, which it has been doing every year since 2003.
Cloud seeding involves a process of spraying silver iodide, a chemical that aids precipitation, from an aircraft, on clouds to cause rain. The process is complex as meteorologists need to monitor through radars rain-bearing clouds in a region before the aircraft is sent to spray the chemical.
“A cloud’s life is around 40 minutes. But if there are no clouds, nothing can be done,” said Arvind Sharma, whose Bangalore-based company Agni Aviation is carrying out the cloud-seeding operations in Andhra Pradesh. Sharma says there has been an increase of 15-20% in rainfall in the regions where the operations have been carried out.
“Marginally, we are finding some use (from cloud seeding),” said I.V. Muralikrishna, coordinator at Centre for Atmospheric Sciences and Weather Modification Technologies at Hyderabad-based Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University. “Any statistical analysis needs 10-year data,” he, however, pointed out.
Meanwhile, Andhra Pradesh has prepared a plan of advising farmers to sow short-duration crops using hybrid seeds in the rain-fed cultivation areas in case the dry spell leads to a rainfall deficiency of up to 70%. Five of its 23 districts received normal rainfall, while 12 districts reported deficit ranging from 20% to 99%, and six districts reported scanty rainfall with a deficit of 60-99%. While acreage of sowings of coarse gains stood at only 50%, sowings of pulses stood at just 35% and oil seeds at 56%, said Srinivasulu.