In Rajasthan, extreme heat pushes farmers to migrate

By Sophie Landrin

Posted today at 5:00 p.m.

The land is sandy, the dune landscape, the vegetation reduced to a few khejri, large trees resistant to storms, drought and high temperatures. The district of Churu, located at the gates of the Thar Desert, in Rajasthan (north-west of India), is an arid, difficult land. The least fertile in the country. Farmers can only rely on the monsoon rains to grow their seeds and fill their collective drinking water reservoir. The rest of the year, the sky does not usually bring a drop of water. The region has no rivers or lakes, and the water tables are low and saline.

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Generations of peasants have learned to farm in these semi-desert conditions, but in recent years skills and living conditions have been strained by extreme heat waves and drought. The Churu region, which has a population of two million, recorded the 1is June 2019, a record 50.8 ° C. People initially believed in an exception, but every summer turns into a furnace. Above all, the rains regime has totally changed, disrupting agriculture and animal husbandry, which constitute the main activity of Churu and Rajasthan. Almost 70% of the population depend on it. This state represents 12% of milk production in India.

Pyrelal Sihag in his fields, located in the village of Molisar (Rajasthan, India), December 1, 2021.

“90% of farmers are in debt”

“Before the 2000s, we had a premonsoon in June, then, in July, the real monsoon. It’s finish. This year, the rains came in the last week of July. The wells were dry; the millet, which is our main crop, has partly roasted. What was left was damaged just before harvest in September by heavy rains. 2021 is catastrophic ”, says Pyrelal Sihag, who owns six hectares. Laxman Burdak also lost money with his 1.5 hectares devoted to the cultivation of green gram, a kind of bean. It only managed to produce nine quintals. Too few. While he had invested 60,000 rupees (700 euros), the sale only earned him 46,000 rupees. The farmer therefore suffered a net loss of 14,000 rupees.

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With each harvest, Pyrelal and Laxman risk their exploitation. In the past, in the event of a hard blow, they could sell a cow and secure an inflow of new money, but Hindu nationalists banned the transport, slaughter and consumption of ruminants, sacred animals in the Hindu religion. When the cattle no longer give milk, the owners abandon them, so as not to ruin themselves in fodder. Thousands of stray cows clutter towns, villages and roads, causing serial accidents, as well as crops. The peasants had to equip themselves with wooden fences or barbed wire.

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