Jul 5, 2012

Delayed monsoon keeps the country on edge.

Once again the rain gods are playing truant. With 31 per cent shortfall in June, and with an expectation of only 70 per cent of the predicted 96 per cent rainfall for the July- August months, crucial for farming operations, kharif crops face a real threat.  
In June alone, Ministry of Agriculture has calculated the shortfall in paddy transplanting to be around 26 per cent in the frontline agricultural states of Punjab and Haryana. Sowing of maize, bajra, jowar have been much low in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka.  Although the Ministry claims that the sowing of pulses, oilseeds and sugarcane has been near normal, any further delay will have a serious repercussion on kharif production. Even in Uttar Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, the standing crop is coming under pressure with every passing day. 

If the rains get delayed by another week or so, all estimates will go topsy-turvy. It will then be time to press the panic button. 

Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar is trying his best to play down fears of an impending drought. Coming at a time when the annual growth has slipped to 6.5 per cent, any indication of an expected shortfall in agriculture production will send the markets soaring. While any loss in production following the dry spell will further hit the growth story, it will also push up food inflation thereby inviting a lot of drubbing for the government. “We are fully prepared to meet any rainfall deficiency situation, and all states have been directed to be ready with the farm ministry’s contingency plans,” he said. 

What makes the monsoon forecast a matter of concern is the prediction that El Nino – warm ocean currents in the Pacific region that causes severe droughts in Australia, Southeast Asia and India – might appear in September. The US-based International Research Institute for Climate and Society as well as the Australian Bureau of Meteorology has predicted the possibility of El Nino striking in the latter half of the year. Our own meteorological department thinks the chances of El Nino appearing in September is around 36 per cent. If that happens, it will mean a drier September which would certainly result in production loss at the time of grain formation in standing crops.  

How serious is the impact of El Nino factor can be gauged from the fact that the previous five droughts in India were all because El Nino had appeared in a significant form. Globally, if you examine the meteorological data of past 110 years, of the 21 major droughts 15 were caused by El Nino. The fury and intensity of El Nino cannot be simply glossed over. 

It isn’t easy to make correct long-term predictions about the behaviour of monsoon. Not only the Indian Met department, even internationally the predictions have not been sharp and correct. This year the predictions by some of the best known institutes abroad for monsoon range from complete failure to normal. Over the years, the IMD has moved away from the statistical method to a more improved dynamic model but to expect that the predictions will hit the bull eye is still far away. In fact, the Met Dept has not been able to predict drought in the past 130 years. 

In 2009, the country faced one of the worst droughts in recent times. The Met Department had predicted 96 per cent rainfall in the long-term average. The actual rainfall was short by a whopping 23 per cent resulting in a loss in paddy production to the tune of 12 per cent. This year too, the Met Department has predicted monsoon to be in the range of 96 per cent, and there has already been a delay of about a fortnight in over 70 per cent of the geographical area. 

Even if the deficient monsoon turns into a drought, the redeeming factor is that the country is saddled with a record 82.4 million tonnes of wheat and rice. There is no danger of an impending famine in case production slumps from an impending drought. With such comfortable food stocks, the government should be able to judiciously distribute it among needy states and at the same time make open-market releases so as to bring price rise in staple food under control. Also, there will be no need to look for food imports considering the sufficient stocks lying within the country. In any case, international wheat supplies too is expected to slump following a severe drought in the midlands region of US, comprising the wheat production belt.   

This is why India must spurn the G-20 directive which makes it obligatory for member countries to export any surplus food. Although the G-20 objective is to ensure that the global food prices don’t harden in wake of short supplies, India cannot afford the luxury considering its huge population and the need to maintain enough foodstocks at all times for precariously balancing its food security needs. Domestic policies therefore have to take precedence over international obligations. Allowing the export of skimmed milk powder just a month before the monsoon begins too is not a worthwhile decision knowing well that milk production drops in summers. A prolonged dry spell is first going to hit dairy production. #


Rajan Alexander said...

Devinder, you mix-up 2 issues.

The first is the monsoon performance.

a. Global models are split whether there indeed an El Nino though two critical issues crossed threshold values last week. The Equatorial East Pacific typically warms during the boreal summer and loses the heat by September.

Secondly, there are two variants of the El Nino - the normal goes eastwards and the pseudo westwards and known as El Nino Modiki. There are reason to believe we maybe experiencing the latter - the effects of both are different.

But in any case, there is a time lag effect and any El Nino effect should kick in only by September, if at all. It is a fallacy to treat synonymous El Nino and deficient rainfall. Out of the 36 El Nino years since 1875, only 16 led to rainfall below 90%. In 1997,the strongest El Nino in recorded history, we registered excess rains.

So an El Nino is a significant factor but not the only factor that is responsible for deficient rainfall. Besides June rains failed In 2009, the June rains were a whopping 47.2% in 2010 compared to 29% this year, suggesting if it is an El Nino, it should be a much weaker one.

But more importantly, in recent times we are experiencing decreasing June rains and increasing July rains. Despite this pattern change, agriculture production have registering new highs which establishes late sowing should not be having much an adverse effect.

The second issue is whether we should be exporting our surplus. There is much merit in your argument but rather than these stocks rot, it is better to export them. Secondly, higher prices is the best way to stimulate agricultural production. When we need to import various food items to meet shortages at certain times, we need to reciprocate to the global market too


Devinder Sharma said...

the problem with armchair economists/experts is that they sit and write thinking they only know what is better.

I have seen your blog post. It was reweeted by Sucheta Dala, whom I respect greatly. But reading it, I feel you don't even know the fundamentals of agriculture. Please try to get some orientation lectures somewhere before you start commenting.

I know what El Nino means, and I also know monsoon is still far from understood.

I have also seen this argument that we should export surplus food. This comes from those who are well fed. For them, hunger means missing a lunch. In a country which has 320 million people going to bed hungry, suggesting food exports is nothing but a crime.

Devinder Sharma

Devinder Sharma said...

Also, refrain from passing insuniating remarks against everyone you don't agree with. I have never called myself international food security expert. If some people address me like that what can I do? Suman Sahay of Gene Campaign and Dr Ramoo of Centre for Sustainable Agriculture are very distinguished people. They have made significant contribution to agriculture, and your passing snide remarks against them tells is reflective of an inferiority complex you carry.

Devinder Sharma

Neeraj Pratap said...

You Are absolutely Right Devinder Sir, armchair economists/experts don't know fundamentals of Ariculture.

Rajan Alexander said...

I did not make any adverse comments against Ramu or Suman sahai in my post. I did refer to the Gene Campaign's policy document on climate change impact on agriculture for ICRIER, for which I made a detailed critique.

How much do you know of me to conclude I'm an armchair expert?

But it doesn't matter what people think of me, what's matters is the facts?

If you know agriculture, monsoons & EL Nino, then you should know better not to create alarmism. The weather can be very unpredictable, because it is a non-linear choatic system which lends itself to little cause-effect relationship

Devinder Sharma said...

We all know weather can be unpredictable. What's new in this?

No one is creating an alarm. Dr Ramoo, Suman Sahay and Dr Andy Turner et al are calling for adaptation technologies/approaches by farmers. This is the way forward.

Readers FYI, regarding the monsoon prediction, Pallava Bagla had written an excellent comment in India Today (May 17, 2010) titled: Clouded Vision. Try to Google search, and read it.

Devinder Sharma said...

This is what Nature writers have said about Rajan Alexander's misadventure with climate science: "Rajan Alexander paints an extremely distorted picture of our Nature Climate Change review article (Climate Change and the South Asian Monsoon, Nature Climate Change, doi:10.1038/nclimate1495), blatantly misrepresents the science and implies a viewpoint that we have not presented and do not support."

You can read their complete response at: http://agrariancrisis.in/wp-admin/edit-comments.php?approved=1#

arun said...

Your blog is nice, I like it, you have many error in your blog which so by your blog visitor through comment, remove it kindly and improve your experience Thanks for sharing it!

Rajan Alexander said...

Hi Devinder. As of date rainfall is 94%.

The El Nino didn't turn out the expected driver of this season's monsoon, did it?

In the end it was the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) that was the wildcard as I elaborated in my early monsoon prediction of April 3rd.

You maybe interested in my latest post:

Hitting the Bullseye - SW Monsoon Rainfall: 94% of LPA: Our forecast 94%!

Andy Turner is supposed to be an expert on the Indian Monsoon. How is it that he does not produce a forecast to demonstrate his expertise? When the IMD is struggling, Turner's "expert" forecast could have been very useless. Pity he shies away from forecasts and prefers to write only theoretical papers.

I asked Turner if global warming was indeed accelerating as alarmists claimed, how come relative humidity and evaporation was declining? The question was pure science

Yet no reply. And you can imagine why. Such a phenomena goes against the law of physics except if the global temperature dataset was manipulated.

He is also completely wrong about there being no idea about monsoon breaks and active spells within the country. The IMD provides us a very good idea; there are several amateur weathermen who mastered this art, several of them I know personally. I too have some level of reasonable proficiency in this area but slowly learning this art by trial and error.

For the record my graduation degree is in Natural Science. Took to Management & social sciences only at post-graduate level. Till about 5 years ago, my consulting firm offered agricultural support services to NGOs

My thematic specialization is livelihood and I have evaluated livelihood programmes of bi/multi-lateral agencies and international NGOs both India and 7 other countries. My clients include most of these jokers now claiming to a Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) expertise. None of these Int NGOs dare to publish their own monsoon forecasts despite the latter being central to CSA.

I willing to openly debate any one on both the politics and science of climate change in India

Global cooling has begun and we should be seeing its acceleration as early as next year.