Skymet had forecast that southern peninsula and major portions of northeast India are likely to witness ‘below normal’ rainfall this season·
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) on Monday predicted this year’s southwest monsoon (April-September) to be ‘normal’, at 97% of the long-period average (LPA) of 89 cm, with a margin of error of +/- 5%. It has lined up five probable scenarios — a normal monsoon (42%), below normal (30%), deficient (14%), above normal (12%) and excess (2%). If this official forecast holds true, the country will have near-normal to normal monsoon for the third year in a row, after two successive years of drought. Private forecaster Skymet had earlier predicted the impending monsoon rainfall to be 100% of LPA with 55% chances of it being normal and nil chances of a drought. Agriculture secretary SK Pattanayak said the country’s foodgrain production in the 2018-19 crop-year (July-June) might surpass the record high of 277.49 million tonnes achieved in 2017-18.
“The normal monsoon will boost kharif sowing that will start from June,” Pattanayak told PTI. However, analysts were cautious about how the rains would impact kharif crops as the IMD’s first forecast towards the lower end of the normal range revealed little about the spatial distribution of the rains or the arrival or withdrawal of the monsoon into/from the subcontinent. The fact that major reservoirs in the country are at low storage levels amplified their concerns. A normal monsoon this year will bring relief to people in 404 districts who are facing water scarcity due to poor rainfall since October 2017. While good and suitably dispersed monsoon rains do boost kharif output, these don’t automatically guarantee increased income for farmers. “Rain per se is important but in the last two years good monsoon has led to high production while prices have come down sharply affecting farm incomes,” CARE Ratings wrote. The kharif crop accounts for about 50% of India’s farm production while around 65% of the production is rain-dependent.
Skymet had forecast that southern peninsula and major portions of northeast India are likely to witness ‘below normal’ rainfall this season· this could potentially impact pulses, coarse cereals and plantation crops cultivated in these regions. While the IMD will come out with its forecast of monsoon arrival at the Kerala coast (where it first hits the subcontinent) by mid-May, according to Skymet, the rains are also predicted to arrive in time for the crops. June will witness record excess rainfall, the private agency had said, and in July, which is crucial for all kharif crops, the rainfall would likely be normal. India’s foodgrain production reached a record level of 275.11 million tonnes in the 2016-17 crop year and this was bettered in the subsequent year.
“Data for the last 50 years show that in any five-year period, there have never been more than two bad monsoons, while three consecutive good monsoons have occurred. The last such period in recent history was 2010-2013 and 2005-2008 where the actual rainfall was 98.3% and 100.3%, respectively, on average,” Crisil said. A key point to note, according to Crisil, is that the first monsoon forecast for 2018 is slightly better than the IMD’s first one last year. Last year, the southwest monsoon came in at 95% of LPA, only slightly below the IMD’s initial forecast of 96%. “Crops such as cotton, oilseeds and pulses in particular are dependent on monsoon in peninsular India covering states like Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Madhya Pradesh too is dependent on the southwest monsoon,” CARE Ratings added.
Pattanayak said that there would be slight deficiency of monsoon rains in southern peninsular and northeastern parts for a month, but that would be recovered. The normal monsoon forecast augurs well for agriculture and the overall economy, he said. The agriculture secretary has also said that monsoon rains would be deficient in southern interior parts of poll-bound Karnataka. However, reservoirs in the state are expected to be full as rains in southern peninsular as a whole is likely to be normal.
IMD director general KJ Ramesh said the weather bureau would release the next update on the monsoon in June with detailed forecast on each region as well as for every month after studying the pattern of rain. He said the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) may turn negative in the later part of the June-September monsoon season. He said a positive IOD, which is measured on the basis of sea surface temperature in the Indian Ocean, is good for the monsoon while if it turns negative it is not that favourable. However, since the ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) neutral is predicted for the Pacific Ocean, the monsoon in India may be normal, he added.
Currently it is a weak La Nina, which is associated with cooler-than-average sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. El Nino, which normally brings lower monsoon rainfall, develops when the surface temperatures of the the Pacific rise above normal. The IMD data points to mild to extremely dry conditions in 404 districts. Out of these, about 140 districts have been termed severely to extremely dry and 109 districts moderately dry based on rainfall between October 2017 and March 2018.