Monsoon’s retreat | The Financial Express

Monsoon’s retreat

Erratic rainfall pattern should dictate change in kharif cropping.

Monsoon’s retreat
The monsoon’s uneven progress during the crucial months of June and July impacted kharif sowing operations for paddy, coarse cereals, pulses, oilseeds, cotton and soya bean. (IE)

The southwest monsoon is retreating after providing 6.5% higher than normal rainfall from June to September with a crucial bearing on crop output during the kharif or summer season. Normal broadly means that rainfall over the season is between 96% and 104% of the long period average of 868.6 mm. Even with above normal rains at an all-India level—the fourth successive good season—the monsoon has been erratic temporally and spatially. Although there was an earlier onset over Kerala in late May, there was a subsequent lull in its progress with deficient rainfall during June. As it revived, there was surplus rainfall during July to September. Spatially, the eastern and north-eastern parts of the country experienced significant deficiency, of 18%, while central and peninsular India received rainfall of 19% and 22% higher than the LPA, respectively. Another characteristic of this year’s monsoon is that the number of light and moderate rainfall events has been decreasing while the number of heavy rainfall days has been rising. There were 1,874 heavy rainfall events this year when compared to 1,636 events last year according to India Meteorological Department’s report on the salient features of monsoon 2022.

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The monsoon’s uneven progress during the crucial months of June and July impacted kharif sowing operations for paddy, coarse cereals, pulses, oilseeds, cotton and soya bean. Till end-September, the overall kharif sown area was 0.8% less than a year ago at 110.2 million hectares. The shortfall was greater for paddy due to rainfall deficiency in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal. On the other hand, surplus rains in September delayed harvesting of paddy in the northern regions while it helped add some area in southern states like Karnataka, Telengana and Tamil Nadu. The area under paddy thus was 4.7% less than a year ago, at 40.2 million hectares. As a result, the country’s rice production—at 104.99 million tonnes—is expected to be less by 6% than a year ago during the 2022-23 cropping season, according to the first estimate of food grain production released by the agriculture ministry. Overall kharif food grain output, too, is estimated to decline by 4% than a year ago to 149.2 mt this cropping season. Higher than normal rains however ensure sufficient moisture for the ensuing rabi or winter season.

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As the monsoon affects India’s agricultural sector, it is necessary to improve the forecasting of its progress during the season. While there is no doubt an improvement in IMD’s predictions, accuracy is not high at a location-specific level. IMD’s DG admitted that the agency could not accurately forecast the extent of deficiency in key rice-growing states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal, according to a report in FE. But the larger moral of the story is to encourage a shift in cropping patterns away from water-intensive crops like paddy in the vanguard agrarian regions. This diversification however entails a larger policy rethink on the existing practice of procuring food grain at minimum support prices as urged by a member of the official think-tank Niti Aayog. Farmer incomes can be boosted manifold with crop diversification from staple cereals to high-value crops. To cope with an erratic monsoon, there is a need to build more irrigation facilities in the rain-fed regions and develop short duration crop strains to enable farmers to make timely shifts in cropping patterns.

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