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Agriculture: Amid heatwaves, farmers are worried as monsoon rains 20% less so far

Agriculture: Amid heatwaves, farmers are worried as monsoon rains 20% less so far

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Virendra Pandit

New Delhi: With the new Union Agriculture Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan planning ambitious schemes to boost farm production across India, as he did in Madhya Pradesh during his nearly two decades as its Chief Minister, the farmers have a fresh reason for concern: an overall deficit of 20 percent rains since the much-awaited monsoon season commenced on June 1.

Although the state-run India Meteorological Department (IMD) and some private forecasts predicted normal or above-normal rains this year, the trend so far has not been very encouraging. Some states are still reeling under intense heat waves and high temperatures, unusual after the onset of the rainy season, while many areas, including Delhi, are facing acute water shortages.

According to the media reports, quoting the IMD on Monday, the South Asian country, whose economy still depends largely on agriculture and which is projected to become the world’s third-largest economy in a few years, has seen this year’s monsoon deliver a fifth less rain than normal so far this season.

It is a worrying sign for the vital agricultural sector which supports nearly half of the Indian economy.

Summer rains, critical to economic growth in Asia’s third-largest economy, usually begin in the southern states, starting in Kerala, around June 1 before spreading nationwide by July 8. The period allows farmers to plant rabi crops such as rice, cotton, soybeans, and sugarcane.
Although it is still early to say much, India has in the last two weeks received an average of 20 percent less rainfall than normal since June 1, with almost all regions except for a few southern states seeing shortfalls and some northwestern states still experiencing heat waves.

The rain shortfall in soybean, cotton, sugarcane, and pulses-growing central India has risen to 29 percent, while the paddy-growing southern region received 17 percent more rainfall than normal because of an early onset of the monsoon. The northeast has received 20 percent less rainfall than normal so far, and the northwest has a deficit of nearly 68 percent.

The lifeline of the nearly USD 3.5 trillion economy, the monsoon brings nearly 70 percent of the rain India needs to water farms and refill reservoirs and aquifers.

In the absence of irrigation, about half the farmland in the world’s second-biggest producer of rice, wheat, and sugar depends on the annual rains that usually run between June and September.

“The monsoon’s progress is stalled. It has weakened. But when it revives and becomes active, it can erase the rain deficit in a short burst,” an IMD official said.

Heatwave conditions may prevail in northern states for a few more days, but temperatures could start coming down from the weekend, he added.

The maximum temperature in India’s northern states currently ranges between 42 and 47.6 degrees Celsius, about 4-9 C above normal, the IMD data showed.


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