Chasing the monsoon

• The forecast of a normal monsoon has brought relief all around. For farmers, the India Meteorological Department’s estimate that rainfall during the summer, between June and September, will be 97% of the 50-year average of 89 cm, is bound to raise fresh expectations.

• This is the third year in a row that they can look forward to a high output for a variety of crops, although fiscal realities have come in the way of realising higher farm incomes.

• The Centre has been supportive of higher returns through the Minimum Support Price mechanism and additional bonuses have been announced by States such as Madhya Pradesh for procurement, but these have helped mainly rice and wheat.

=> What Government Can do against the rising output?

• From a water management perspective, though, this trend has led to a skew towards these crops, which are heavily dependent on groundwater.

• Now that another year of good cropping is expected, and unremunerative prices will depress public sentiment, it is vital for the Centre to arrive at a policy that gives constructive advice to farmers on the ideal cropping mix and help them get the cost-plus-50% margin that it has promised them.

• The IMD’s decision to provide a more fine-grained forecast on the monsoon’s progress, particularly in the central and northern regions, will meet a long-felt need and can potentially guide farmers better.

=> CHALLENGE

==> Utilising Rain Water

• The long-term challenge is to make the most of the rainfall that India gets, ranging from a few hundred millimetres or less in the northwest to more than a few thousand millimetres elsewhere.

• The Master Plan for Artificial Recharge to Ground Water drawn up by the Centre should be pursued scientifically, to help States with the most water-stressed blocks get adequate funds to build artificial recharge structures.

• For those farmers who choose to continue with wheat and rice, transfer of expertise and provision of equipment that enables efficient utilisation of water is vital. An estimate of water used to grow rice and wheat, measured in cubic metres per tonne, shows that India uses more than what, say, China does. In the case of cotton, the figures present an even more staggering contrast: 8,264 cubic metres for India, against 1,419 for China. Combined with distortions in procurement subsidies, water stress due to such use is inevitable.

• On the monsoon as a whole, studies indicate a change in the pattern since 1950. There is an increase in daily average rainfall since 2002, barring some of the worst El Niño years, likely due to higher land temperatures and cooler oceans.

=> Conclusion

• What is well known is that a good monsoon raises agriculture’s contribution to GDP growth, while a drought year depresses it. Clearly, governments need to invest consistently to harvest the monsoon, both on the surface and underground, with community participation.

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