States Stare at Drought As 59% of India Get Deficit Rainfall, Food Output at the Lowest
Around 59% of India has received substantially less rainfall as compared to previous years, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) data shows, raising apprehension that poor agriculture output could adversely impact the economy.
The latest economic growth, measured by the gross domestic product, grew by 5.7% in the first quarter of 2017-18 as compared to 7.9% in the same quarter a year ago — slowest since the National Democratic Alliance government came to power in May 2014.
The government had predicted in April that it expects the farm output growth to remain stable at 4% while setting a foodgrain production target of 273 million tonnes in 2017-18 crop year (July-June) amid expectation of a normal rainfall in June-September.
That did not happen as once again IMD’s prediction of a normal monsoon went wrong.
Although the overall deficit is 6%, India’s food bowl states of Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh received up to 36% less rainfall than the long-term average rainfall. These states account for almost half of the country’s food production.
In addition, large parts of agriculturally significant Maharashtra, Telangana, Karnataka and Kerala received less rainfall than previous years, and face drought for the third year in a row.
The rainfall distress is also visible on the crop sowing data from these states even though the agriculture ministry is hopeful the impact on overall production will not be high. Production of crops like soybean, cotton, oilseeds and vegetables would be less in October-November season.
“Farm production in Punjab, Haryana and western UP is not entirely dependant on monsoon,” a senior ministry official said, adding there can be some concerns in Karnataka and Kerala where rainfall has been scanty.
Chandigarh-based economist Devendra Sharma said scanty rainfall may reduce the farm growth this year by half as the area of impact is vast. “The impact on production will be huge,” he said, and added that the country’s agriculture sector was going through its “worst phase” and nobody was talking about it.
As the crisis looms large, the state governments are only just getting ready to tackle what may be another year of distress and misery for the poor farmers.
Madhya Pradesh, which has received up to 30% less rain, has constituted a committee under chief secretary Basant Pratap Singh to evaluate the extent of drought. Only four of the 51 districts in the state have received normal rainfall while in regions such as Bundelkhand, the deficiency is as high as 59%.
Rajasthan has set up a committee to examine the farmers’ demands of compensation and loan waiver.
Drought surveys have also been initiated in Karnataka and Kerala. Maharashtra has begun the process to pay compensation to its affected farmers.
Not much rainfall is expected in the remaining two weeks of the south-west monsoon as IMD has not forecasted any revival so far.