Usual suspects get little rain

Even though the science behind weather forecast has developed enormously in the last eleven years, it is still not possible for scientists to accurately forecast spatial distribution of rainfall in each month of monsoon period from June to September.

This year’s forecasts of Southwest (SW) monsoon by Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) and Skymet were no exception. However, despite deficient rainfall in some regions, production of Kharif crops is not estimated to be lower than last year. 

North-East India, which receives average rainfall of 1,438 mm during SW monsoon faced a deficit of 24 per  cent this year. Since the average rainfall is high, this deficiency would not have affected the Kharif production significantly.

Because of the late withdrawal of monsoon, there was residual moisture in soil and therefore, production of Rabi crops is also likely to be normal in this region. In Bihar, maize has emerged as a major crop in Rabi and its MSP has been raised from Rs 1,425 to Rs 1,700 per quintal.

Market reports suggest that farmers of Kharif maize this year are selling maize below MSP, as it is not being procured. If Bihar farmers can realise higher price for Rabi maize, it will bring some hope to them that the promise of doubling their income is really meant to be fulfilled.

The normal rainfall in central India in SW monsoon is 975 mm and the region faced 7 per cent deficiency. Rain-fed areas in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra received near normal rains, but the drought-prone region of Marathwada received 22 per cent rainfall.

The dams in the region have just 24 per cent of live capacity. In fact, the dams in Beed and Hingoli are almost dry. What ever little water will be available in the dams will be used for drinking water and very little will be available for Rabi crops.

The Central government has been promoting digging of small tanks on the fields of small and marginal farmers under MGNREGS. Their efficacy in mitigating drought will be tested in the next few months. With about 40 sugar factories in Marathwada, farmers have decreased area under moong, maize and jowar and have taken to sugarcane, which gives higher return as it’s purchase by sugar mills is guaranteed.

Soybean and cotton crops in Marathwada have suffered due to lower rainfall. With production of Rabi crop in doubt, farm distress in this region of Maharashtra is only going to increase. In Gujarat also, Saurashtra, North Gujarat and Kutch regions received very low rainfall, which has hit the cotton and groundnut crops in Kharif.

In Rabi, water from Narmada project can help, even though water level in various reservoirs in the region is only 39 per cent of capacity.

Average rainfall in south peninsular India in SW monsoon was 975.5 mm with just 2 per cent deficiency because Kerala received 24 per cent higher than normal rainfall.

TN, Kerala, coastal Andhra Pradesh and Rayalseema get about 30 per cent of annual rainfall from Northeast monsoon season in October- December period. TN gets about 48 per cent of annual rainfall in this season. IMD has forecast a normal Northeast monsoon which will be a boon for the region.  Some parts in Karnataka also received lower rainfall in the SW monsoon. The state government has started a number of schemes for drought proofing.

Average rainfall in north-west India in SW monsoon is 615 mm and it was deficient only by 2 per cent. In the last five years, Punjab, Haryana and Western UP have been receiving less than normal rainfall and the region has been withdrawing underground water to irrigate paddy and sugar cane in Kharif and wheat and mustard etc in Rabi.

This region is also well served by canal system so we should expect overall production in Rabi to be good. However, the prices of diesel, pesticides and fertilisers have risen by about 20%, so farmers will end up spending more for getting same yield. The procurement machinery in these states is well organized so the farmers will at least realise the MSP for wheat and paddy.

On the whole, despite the shortfall in SW monsoon rains, the scenario for Rabi 2018 looks reasonably good. Farm-related issues have been under intense discussion in the last one year and the Central government announced handsome increase in MSP of Kharif crops.

MSP for Rabi crops have seen only moderate increase of 5-6 per cent, which will barely cover the recent increase of about 20 per cent in price of diesel, phosphatic and potassic fertilisers and pesticides.

Among Rabi crops, the MSP of safflower has seen highest increase of about 21 per cent. Karnataka and Maharashtra are major producers of safflower. If these farmers can get MSP for safflower, it will give a big boost to their income.

India’s food security is under no threat due to shortfall in SW monsoon rains. In fact, the government has large stock of wheat and rice, which will be released in the open market if there is inflationary trend.

However, it is the farmers who are hit due to failure of monsoon in their areas. More than the rain gods, it is the agriculture markets, which have harmed the farmers in the last four years!

[ Nov 2, 2018]