The Cold Desert – Ladakh and Agricultural productivity

Receding glaciers and prolonged dry spell have impacted the agricultural productivity in the arid Ladakh region as several villages in the cold desert have been facing drought-like situation which, in turn, have affected the standing crops to a considerable level.

If the agriculture department officials in Ladakh are to be believed, the prevailing water crisis would lead to nearly 40 per cent loss in the overall yield of all major crops, including wheat, barley and potato, etc.

“Nearly 90 per cent farmers in the region depend on irrigation through snow and glacial water. The agricultural productivity depends on the supply of glacial meltwater. The receding glaciers have affected the agricultural activity in several villages of the Ladakh region,” Tashi Tsetan, chief agriculture officer (CAO), Leh .

Tsetan said they had conducted a survey on the impact of water crisis on standing crops in the region. “We conducted a survey in several villages of Khaltse or Khalsi subdivision and the Changthang areas, where our teams found drought-like situation due to the prolonged dry spell and no irrigation facility because of retreating glacial meltwater. However, some parts of the Nubra valley have received fresh rainfall which may improve the agricultural productivity to a great extent,” the CAO said.

During last winter, the officer said the region received scanty snowfall due to which there was a change in the supply from glacial meltwater, which had posed a serious threat to agriculture. “So far, the problem is not as big but it will definitely grow if it does not rain in the region,” Tsetan said, adding: “We are apprehending nearly 40 per cent loss to the agricultural productivity this year.”

In Leh district alone, there is about 10,000 square hectares net cultivable area which depend on irrigation by snow and glacial water.Thinles Dawa, a noted soil chemist in Ladakh, said, “The prevailing weather conditions have made an impact on all major crops grown in the region. Now, people have started shifting towards cash cropping system, where they are producing vegetables as it requires less water,” he said, adding: “The overall impact of water crisis on the agriculture sector will be clear by the first week of next month if it doesn’t rain here.”

Sonam Wangchuk, a Ladakhi engineer and education reformist, who gave the idea of creating artificial glaciers “Ice Stupas” by refreezing the fast melting natural ones to address the irrigation problem in the Ladakh region, also flagged this concern last month when he had said, “This year, whole of Ladakh is facing acute water shortage in every Valley, including the Phyang valley. The artificial glaciers have made their modest contribution but of course the need for water is so large that they need to be built on a much larger scale.”

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“Seeing the unpredictable snowfall in winter nowadays, every Ladakhi village must freeze as much of their streams as possible. So that even if our prayers for snowfall are not heard, our own handmade glaciers can help us during the critical spring months,” he had written on social media.

[Originally posted in TribuneIndia ]