All is well

Written by Sandip Das | Updated: Jul 8 2012, 08:12am hrs
Even as revival of the monsoon since Thursday has brought much cheer all around, ending weeks of nervousness, experts say there was never any cause to panic on the agriculture front. Improved irrigation facilities and rising foodgrain stocks have provided the country a sort of 'immunity' against deficient rainfall, and as T Nanda Kumar, former secretary, ministry of agriculture, points out an obvious fact, So far there is no reason to be alarmed about the current monsoon deficiency as we still have two more months to go in the current monsoon season.

While advising that we need to closely look at rainfall during the next one month, which would decide the coarse of kharif production this year, Ashok Gulati, chairman, Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP), tells FE that due to increase in creation of irrigation facilities from 33% to 44% of the agricultural land during the past one decade, rising foodgrain stocks and and thrust on horticulture, country has developed a kind of resilience in case of deficiency in monsoon.

Consider this: In 2009-10, the country received 21.8% less rainfall during June and September, leading to severe drought-like conditions in many parts of the country. And although the country's foodgrain production dropped by over 7% to 218 million tonnes from 234 mt in the previous year and rice production declined to 89 million tonnes from the previous year's record output of 99.18 mt, it did not disrupt supplies as the government had huge grain stocks in reserve. Wheat production did not decline at all.

This year too, on June 1, the Food Corporation of India (FCI) had foodgrain stock (mostly rice and wheat) at an all-time high in excess of 82 million tonnes, against buffer stocks and strategic reserve norms of only 31.9 million tonnes. A point emphasised by PK Joshi, director (south Asia), International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI): The monsoon rains do impact agricultural activities, particularly in rainfed regions of the country, but with huge stocks of foodgrain at the government's disposal, the impact on the supplies would be minimal.

Alternatives in place

Several times, a good rabi crop compensates for a bad kharif crop as a delayed monsoon would mean more water for the rabi crop, as pointed out by Ramesh Chand, director, National Centre for Agricultural Economics and Policy Research: The contribution of rabi or winter crop in total foodgrain production has been rising steadily during the past few years. Also, higher foodgrain stocks also keep prices under check.

Rabi crop such as wheat and coarse cereals, maize, oilseeds such as soybean, groundnut and mustard contribute more than half of the total grain output and are grown in mostly irrigated regions such as Punjab, Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

Another factor making agriculture less dependent on monsoon is the government's thrust on increasing production of horticulture crops such as fruits and vegetables. So even in a patchy rainfall year of 2009-10, horticulture output rose to 223 million tonnes from 214 mt in the previous year. Farmers are gradually shifting to horticulture crop in many paddy growing rainfed regions of the country, says an agriculture ministry official. With production of horticulture crops in excess of 240 million tonnes during 2010-11, India has emerged as the second biggest producer of fruits and vegetables after China.

Contingency plan

Moreover, because of a delayed monsoon this year, the government has already swung into action on contingency plans. In rain deficient states such as Bihar, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, the agriculture ministry has prepared a contingency plan that focuses on alternate or short duration crops.

The contingency plan prepared by by Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) under the agriculture ministry, however, has not recommended any change in cropping pattern for the key paddy growing states of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Orissa, where rainfall had been adequate, The states-specific plan has urged farmers in Bihar to avoid long duration (145 days) rice varieties and to instead opt for medium duration varieties (120 days) for dealing with 36% deficiency in rainfall in the month of June.

For Rajasthan, where rainfall had been a huge 72% less than normal season, the agriculture ministry has advised farmers to avoid sowing of maize and sorghum, while recommending cultivation of pulses and sesame, which requires less water.

In its advisory to Gujarat, ICAR has advised farmers against sowing groundnut or any other long duration crop and in case of delay in monsoon beyond middle July, farmers should go in for cluster bean, sesame and green gram. In rain deficient southern Karnataka, medium duration pigeon pea varieties instead of long duration ones have been suggested.

On the basis of progress of the monsoon, we will periodically update our advisories to farmers about the crop pattern, says B Venkateswarlu, director, Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA), a Hyderabad-based body under ICAR.

The country as a whole has received 145.1 millimetres (mm) of rains till the end of the first week of July since the onset of monsoon, against a normal rainfall of 206.5 mm.

The worst-affected have been north-western regions of agriculturally important states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarkhand, Haryana, Punjab and parts of Rajasthan, which have till now received only 33.9 mm of rain against a normal rainfall of 94.9 mm of rain, a huge 64% deficient. Monsoon rains are crucial for agriculture as only 40% of the cultivable area is under irrigation. The farm sector contributes about only 15% to the country's gross domestic product (GDP), but it employs about 60% of India's population.

This year the monsoon arrived in Kerala on June 5, five days late, and it maintained the delay of one week to 10 days in all the states covered so far. Kerala, parts of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Chattisgarh and Jharkhand have received reasonably good rain, permitting sowing operations.

Meanwhile, in the past few days, the south-western monsoon intensified further and moved into many parts of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, boosting kharif crop prospects for this year.

As Shailesh Nayak, secretary, ministry of earth sciences sums up optimistically, We are still standing by our prediction of a normal monsoon this season.