The Indian monsoon is a keenly watched event across the world. It is an event that is tracked closely, especially by stock and commodity market players, worldwide. More importantly, its tidings are intertwined with the fortunes of Indian agriculture and economy.

The rainy season in the country is categorised into four – pre-monsoon (March-May), monsoon (June-September), post-monsoon (October-December) and winter (January-February). Of these, the monsoon and post-monsoon periods are important as we have the South-West monsoon during June-September and the North-East monsoon during October-December.

The South-West monsoon holds the key for good agricultural production as it accounts for nearly 75 per cent of the country’s average total rainfall of about 1,200 mm. Last year, India received 954 mm of rainfall during the South-West monsoon against the long-period average of 877 mm. India received above-normal rainfall in 2019 and 2020 which helped in a record production of foodgrains.

Crucial for food crops

Usually, the South-West Monsoon, delayed by a couple of days this year, sets in on June 1 every year from Kerala and ends by crossing over to Pakistan. This is crucial for food crops such as rice, coarse cereals and pulses, as 48 per cent of the area under these crops is rainfed. Besides, 68 per cent of the area under non-food crops is also rainfed.

Also read: Cyclones Taukte, Yaas leave excess soil moisture ahead of monsoon

During the South-West monsoon, June-August is crucial for the total rainfall the country receives. Over 500 mm of rainfall is received during these three months.

The South-West monsoon does not necessarily set in on June 1. At times, it has entered the Kerala coast a week earlier and sometimes, it has been delayed by even a fortnight.

The South-West monsoon is crucial for agricultural production in the country since the output in Kharif season – Rabi being the other – depends on it. The Kharif or the summer crop season begins in June with sowing and wraps up in October with the harvest.

Rabi crop progress

In a way, the South-West Monsoon also determines the progress of the Rabi crop — with sowing starting in November — December and harvest taking place during March-April. This is since a good rainfall during the South-West monsoon leaves ample water in the important reservoirs in the country, besides better soil moisture.

Until the 2000s, Kharif foodgrain production made up over 60 per cent of the total foodgrain output in the country. But things have changed over the past two decades with Rabi foodgrain production matching Kharif.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Rabi foodgrain production has exceeded Kharif foodgrain output since 2017-18 season (June-July).

But a closer look at the data reveals that Rabi foodgrain production has been mainly buoyed by output in wheat, an exclusive Rabi crop, consistently exceeding 90 million tonnes since 2011-12. Since 2018-19, wheat production has been topping 100 million tonnes.

Also read: Wheat purchases top record 40 million tonnes

Under scrutiny

Over the last couple of years, monsoon has been increasingly under scrutiny since one or the other major States has been reporting either lower or excess rainfall. In fact, unseasonal rainfall has also been creating problems, particularly with regard to horticulture crops such as onion and potato.

Unseasonal rains in September last year affected the quality of soyabean and its production in Madhya Pradesh. The rains also affected onion and potato crops, resulting in their prices surging in retail outlets to record highs.

Though the India Meteorological Department (IMD) could term a monsoon event normal, there could be problems since one of the 36 meteorological sub-divisions might have experienced deficient rainfall.

Not just normal

On the other hand, the IMD treats even 16 per cent deficient rainfall as normal. For example, some parts in the country such as part of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, eastern Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal received seven to 15 per cent deficient rainfall last year but the IMD termed it as normal rainfall. India requires not just a normal monsoon for good agricultural production. It needs rainfall that is even and widespread across the country.

Also, a monsoon termed normal because of heavy rains in September will not help the country since deficient rains during July or August could result in the crops being starved of water. One advantage of good rains in September is that they improve the soil moisture for the Rabi season.

Over the last couple of rains, good rains during September and October have helped Rabi crops production. Pre-monsoon rains also matter a good deal as they improve the soil moisture, a key element for better crop prospects.

Pre-monsoon rains

This year, we have had good pre-monsoon rains, including two cyclones, which have resulted in good soil moisture that can actually benefit agricultural production if monsoon turns out to be good, as projected.

Also read: Monsoon makes soft landing over Kerala: Skymet Weather

Failure of pre-monsoon rains can affect the production of cash crops such as coffee, cardamom, pepper besides summer crops such as groundnut and pulses. It could also leave soil moisture affected, thus affecting sowing operations.

On the other hand, bountiful South-West monsoon also helps allied sectors such as dairy, livestock and poultry since they depend on agriculture crops for feed and fodder.

Rural households and agri

According to the 2018-19 Period Labour Force Survey, 50 per cent of the rural households depend on agriculture. Also, the agriculture sector contributes 16 per cent of the national GDP, as per 2018-19 data.

A World Bank data showed that the agriculture sector made up 43 per cent of total employment in the country in 2017. This is sharply lower from 1991, when its contribution was 64 per cent.

A good crop and remunerative price will mean that the grower will have some additional money to spend. Typically, farmers buy vehicles, including cars and two-wheelers, and white goods such as refrigerator and washing machines. They also go in for construction by either buying lands or extending their houses, purchase gold, particularly when a marriage is round the corner in the family.

This results in a buoyant rural economy. When demand kicks in the rural economy, it lights up the whole economy, increases industrial production, provides more employment and keeps the markets vibrant.

The IMD as well as private forecaster Skymet have predicted a normal monsoon this year. Come October, we will know how the monsoon has panned out and what effect it will have on the country’s economy.

(This is part of the series of Kharif Outlook reports that will appear over the next few days)