Monsoon blues

| Updated on January 09, 2018

It’s been a good year so far, but whether that lifts agriculture is the question

With another normal monsoon on the cards — after a near-normal monsoon last year — India’s kharif crop looks set to better last year’s record output of 138 million tonnes. Thursday’s expert forecasts would have come as a relief to peninsular India, which has so far missed out on the south-west monsoon; a revival is expected in a week in this region. However, the sobering fact is that agriculture growth over the last four years has averaged just about 2.5 per cent, against nearly 4 per cent in the preceding four years. A May 2015 paper of the RBI observes that output responds more to a negative than a positive monsoon shock — a pointer to a productivity crisis. While the income benefits of a good agriculture year in 2016-17 were negated by the demonetisation effect, the Centre must take steps beforehand to stabilise prices in coordination with the States, particularly with respect to pulses where acreage has gone up by 4 per cent this kharif, following a 7-8 per cent support price hike across pulses varieties. The mistakes of the last year, when pulses prices in wholesale markets fell way below the 2016-17 MSP of over ₹5,000 a quintal, should not recur. Volatility in horticulture prices too calls for policy attention.

A good and “well-distributed” monsoon forecast for the country can often mask spatial and temporal variations. Since June this year, south interior Karnataka has so far received 35 per cent less rain than its long period average for this period (rainfall received in a region over 50 years). This comes after a deficit of 22 per cent in 2016-17. Coastal Karnataka and Kerala have run up a deficit so far this monsoon of 20 per cent and 27 per cent, respectively. Coastal Karnataka received 21 per cent and 26 per cent less rain than its LPA in 2016 and 2015, respectively, while the deficit in the case of Kerala was 34 per cent and 26 per cent, respectively. Meanwhile, the Karnataka government has, in a welcome move, said that Cauvery water from the four reservoirs will be used to replenish lakes and tanks to meet drinking water needs before it is released for paddy and sugarcane. Maharashtra should take steps to wean farmers away from sugarcane. Kerala, too, has taken a serious view of rejuvenating its water bodies.

Tracking India’s monsoon has become a complicated affair. The Twelfth Plan document notes that the period 1997-2012 witnessed more rainfall variability than the 15 years preceding it. Weather scientists have pointed to the growing number of dry days in the four monsoon months. It is important to record rainfall patterns at the taluka level and intervene with regard to crop advise and humanitarian issues. Karnataka’s network of rain gauges, also installed by private players with the growth of weather-based crop insurance, has helped. India’s crops are rainfall rather than temperature sensitive. Climate smart agriculture is a lot about tracking rainfall at a granular level.

Published on August 10, 2017

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