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HindustanTimes Fri,19 Sep 2014

To mitigate droughts, India looks to space

Zia Haq, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, June 11, 2014
First Published: 15:37 IST(11/6/2014) | Last Updated: 16:30 IST(11/6/2014)

India has deployed satellites to scour 13 states, including nine high farm output ones, for signs of a drought, as rain-tracking goes high-tech with indigenous space technology.

The big leap came when the country launched its first major satellite dedicated to agriculture, RISAT 1, in 2012. This cut dependence on the Canadian Radarsat, helping save crucial foreign exchange.

Although droughts no longer spell disaster they used to, predictions of a patchy monsoon for the first time in four years will again test India's successful but under-rated drought-management system. 

For instance, India's foodgrains output in 2009, when the country was hit by its worst drought in three decades, was higher by a million tonne than in 2007, a normal year.
 
This year, the country is set to see a satellite-based drought-mitigation technology come in handy. An inter-ministerial meet to review drought preparedness has called for harnessing "NADAMS", a technology transferred to the National Crop Forecasting Centre by ISRO.

Trials in 2013 showed how India could handle future droughts better. District-wise analysis, by the end of July last year, accurately indicated  "normal" farm conditions in 316 districts, while in 13 districts, such as in Andhra Pradesh, where rainfall was scanty, it issued early alert warnings. The system is designed to assess 13 agriculturally important states.

"The fundamental change is that liaising with states becomes faster and more effective, which is crucial to managing droughts," said Sanjeev Gupta, joint secretary in charge of IT application at the farm ministry.

The system can zoom into districts in 13 states, and to the "taluka" level in four others, sending back data, which when processed paints a picture of the prevailing agricultural situation. When manually done, such monitoring can take weeks.

The FAO has hailed India's ability to sustain its grains output even during droughts, saving millions of hunger deaths. Yet, droughts still stoke food inflation, mainly due to shortfall of non-grains, such as fruits, vegetables and milk.


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