The southwest monsoon rains covered the entire country by Friday, more than two weeks ahead of its usual schedule, giving a much-needed boost to crop sowing and easing fears that a second straight year of deficient rainfall in 2015 would hit output and play havoc with the farm economy.
Monsoon rains advanced further into the remaining parts of west Rajasthan on Friday, marking its arrival over the entire country before the usual date of July 15, according to the India Meteorological Department (IMD).
This is despite the fact that seasonal shower hit the Kerala coast only on June 5, four days later than the traditional date.
The area under various summer-sown crops — which was down by 7.4% up to June 19 — not just erased the deficit but surged 23.4% until Friday from a year before, as the seasonal showers gathered considerable pace to exceed the benchmark long-period average (LPA) by 27%.
Barring paddy and sugarcane, the area under all major crops until Friday has exceeded the levels in the same period last year.
Oilseeds witnessed an over fivefold rise in the coverage so far from a year earlier — thanks to excess rainfall in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh — followed by an almost twofold rise in the area under pulses. In the case of paddy, however, the area had dropped 7% until Friday and in cane, the decline was 5%, mainly due to deficient rains in Uttar Pradesh and huge cane arrears across the country.
Water storage across 91 reservoirs of the country, too, touched 43.23 billion cubic metres (bcm) up to Thursday, 11% higher than a year ago and 46% more than the benchmark 10-year average of 29.70 bcm. The IMD earlier this month had revised downward its forecast of seasonal rainfall (June-September) for this year to 88% of the LPA, from 93% reported in May. However, private forecaster Skymet has predicted a normal monsoon, with showers at 102% of the LPA. Last week the IMD said while rainfall would be normal this month, it would be just 92% of the LPA in July and 90% in August.
Since around 60% of the country’s farmland is rain-fed, the pick-up in rainfall would not just boost prospects of farm sector growth but also soothe concerns of food inflation, which had hit as high as 15.3% in the last big drought year of 2009-10. The farm and allied sector grew just 0.2% in the last fiscal, compared with 3.7% a year earlier, as erratic weather dragged down farm production — including a 5% fall in that of grains from a year earlier. Good production this year may also improve rural purchasing power and support a demand-driven recovery in the economy.
Earlier this month, the Reserve Bank of India had raised its retail inflation forecast by 20 basis points to 6% for January 2016, significantly influenced by its higher forecast on food inflation following the prediction of a deficient monsoon season. Crisil Research also revised its GDP growth forecast down by 50 basis points to 7.4% for 2015-16 from 7.9%, fearing the impact of erratic weather. However, a Citi research note recently said: “…the sensitivity to inflation has been on a decline and this could especially be the case if global food prices remain benign, and trends in rural wages and MSP remain moderate”.
Having witnessed a 1% drop from the LPA until June 11, rainfall exceeded the benchmark average by 10% until June 18 before widening the lead even further, as seasonal showers lashed central and southern India before drenching the northwestern regions, which were forecast to receive the worst rainfall deficit of 15% this year. Central India has so far received the maximum rainfall, 48% above the LPA, followed by 39% in northwestern India, 30% rise in the southern peninsula and 1% in eastern and notheastern regions.
“The surge in rainfall will reduce pressure on farm production, as sowing of crops like coarse cereals, which was languishing even up to last Friday, has improved dramatically,” a senior agriculture ministry official told FE.
“Even though the area under the paddy crop is still down marginally from the same period last year, we are confident that the deficit would be bridged by the next week with a pick-up in rains in West Bengal,” he added.
West Bengal, the country’s largest rice producer, has witnessed a 13% deficit in rainfall so far.
However, a senior scientist with the state-run Indian Agricultural Research Institute said excessive rains in some pockets, especially in central India, have caused fears of floods. “Not just the geographical spread but the monthly distribution of rainfall is also important. If rainfall continues with such aggression for another 15 days, chances of floods will rise significantly,” he said. However, going by the IMD’s forecasts for July and August, such a possibility seems distant, he added.
Still, flood-like situations have already occurred in the cotton-growing regions of Gujarat and even Vidarbha, where the rainfall has exceeded the LPA by 40% and 93%, respectively, so far. According to IMD data, as many as 65% of the country’s 36 subdivisions have so far received excess rainfall, while 24% witnessed normal showers and only 11% saw deficient showers.