The ‘normal’ monsoon forecast is at 97%—the lower end of the LPA range of 96% to 104%, with a forecast error of 4%.
The Union finance secretary has said that the forecast of a good monsoon is a morale booster. The Union agriculture minister pointed out that record output of food grains is on the agenda. He is on the mark. The kisan will ensure rising grain output as long as our pricing and marketing policies are what they are. Also, minister Radha Mohan Singh is quite right. The northwest region, already fully irrigated, will, in addition, get 100% of the Long Period Average (LPA) rainfall according to the India Meteorological Department (IMD). But who wants more grain? What about oilseeds and pulses which grow in the Deccan, as also in the east?
The ‘normal’ monsoon forecast is at 97%—the lower end of the LPA range of 96% to 104%, with a forecast error of 4%. Since I live on pension, I would be loathe to bet on the forecast with these odds. Incidentally, both the finance secretary and agriculture minister may well join me soon. But jokes apart, the poor forecast for the south and east (95% and 93%, respectively) needed the attention of both the finance secretary and agriculture minister.
For they are not only the secretary or minister for the northwest and central India, but also for the vulnerable dryland Deccan Plateau in the south and the rainfed east. These are the areas that are agriculturally poor and have higher rates of rural poverty. Perhaps that may be one of the reasons why they vote against the governments in Delhi, whether the Congress or the BJP.
However, the more important reason to pay attention to these regions is they play a crucial role in stabilising output in the crops which account for a substantial part of what is called food inflation, i.e. the crops of kharif oilseeds and pulses. These are groundnut and other major oilseed-producing areas, as also pulses producers apart from chana. Sowing has been delayed, although if the IMD is right, it will soon pick up in June. But poor rains in August can make a difference between 8-9 to 12-15 quintals of dal on an average per hectare.
It also leads to some frustration in some fascinating experiments of really high yields in these crops. ICRISAT and our own dryland centres in Hyderabad have been doing excellent work and this can be disappointing for them. Some of these institutions have been running continuous experiments in hundreds of villages, and in that sense these are no longer experiments but substantial programmes in the fields.
These areas are, by now, major fruit and vegetable producers, as also milk and animal husbandry centres. These are the commodities where demand is rising and food inflation possibilities are the highest. Fodder supplies can be a big bottleneck and can be arranged for in advance, particularly since adverse rainfall is area-specific. These areas have shown considerable capability in export crops. The plantations here are generally small, but are competitive.
They also specialise in exotic agricultural exports like flowers and agricultural inputs like vanilla. Many of these crops are grown in the Ghat regions and are rainfall dependent. A meeting with associations of small plantations, cooperatives, farmer producer companies and some active NGOs which are prospering in these regions may be helpful in anticipatory planning.
Delhi would be advised to get in touch with their counterparts in Bihar, Bengal and the northeast, and in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry and Kerala, to prepare contingency plans for a low and erratic kharif monsoon, crop-wise and subregion-wise.
Again, the IMD regions are not always agricultural regions. Telangana and non-coastal Andhra Pradesh need attention, while the irrigated and coastal areas may manage, although they will also be affected, for irrigation here is different from that in the Gangetic plains. Similarly, the non-coastal areas of Karnataka, north Kerala and internal Tamil Nadu may need attention. Experts have estimated that around a quarter of the impact of erratic rainfall can be compensated for by anticipatory policy.
Former Union minister