Indian agriculture's reliance on monsoon rainfall has reduced considerably over the last few years thanks to the increase in area irrigated, although there are still pockets — particularly in east and central India — where rains still are a decisive determinant of crop.
Indian agriculture’s reliance on monsoon rainfall has reduced considerably over the last few years thanks to the increase in area irrigated, although there are still pockets — particularly in east and central India — where rains still are a decisive determinant of crop. Key grain-producing states Punjab, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have most of the cropped areas under irrigation coverage (see table). Unless there is a large rain deficit as in 2009-10 or two successive of years of shortfall in precipitation as in 2014-15 and 2015-16, these states could produce robust crops.
However, among other crop producers, irrigated areas are relatively lower in Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra. The means that crops such as pulses, coarse cereals and, to an extent, rice continue to have significant monsoon dependence.
“Irrigation has reduced the risk of drought-like conditions developing even in case of moderately less rainfall during a monsoon season,” PK Joshi, director (South Asia), International Food Policy Research Institute, told FE.
This year while east Madhya Pradesh has received ‘deficient’ rainfall, the overall agricultural output for kharif crops like soyabean, pulses and paddy is unlikely to be affected much since over 80% of 130 lakh hectares of sown areas in the state are irrigated. An agriculture ministry official said western Uttar Pradesh, which has been in the rain-deficient category this season, too has comfortable irrigation cover. Even in eastern Uttar Pradesh, groundwater availability is adequate.
Overall, this year’s monsoon has been “below normal” with rainfall at 95% of the long period average of 89 cm, though well-spread.
CARE Ratings said on Tuesday that this kharif output will be lower than in 2016 for some crops but still higher than that in 2015.
As on September 1, Food Corporation of India (FCI) and state government agencies had grain (rice and wheat) stocks of close to 46 million tonnes (mt). This means that it will have stocks far higher than the prescribed buffer stock of 30 mt by October 1. “We have enough grain stocks to deal with any constraints in supply situation in the market,” a food ministry official said.
Another factor aiding the output has been good rabi (winter crop) output in recent years. The contribution of rabi crops in total foodgrain production has been rising steadily over the last few years.
Rabi crops such as wheat and coarse cereals, maize, as well as oilseeds (soyabean, groundnut and mustard), contribute more than half of the total agricultural output. These are grown mostly in irrigated regions such as Punjab, Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. This is one reason that even during the rain-deficient 2009-10 season, wheat production did not decline.
“Deficient rains impact pulses, coarse cereals and paddy output to an extent. But it depends on the how well spread out the monsoon rains are,” said former agriculture secretary Siraj Hussain. He said even if rainfall is deficient, if it is well distributed, standing crops are not usually affected.
Making agriculture less dependent on monsoon is a policy goal the government has set for itself. Production of horticultural crops such as fruits and vegetables has been stepped up over the last decade thanks to the National Horticulture Mission launched in 2005. Horticultural crops are cultivated typically in irrigated areas. India’s horticultural crops output rose to a record 300 mt in the 2016-17 crop year; for the fifth year in a row, horticultural production exceeded foodgrain output. Foodgrain production for the 2016-17 crop year (July-June) stood at a record 276 mt.