Truant monsoon is not raining good news just yet

While early monsoons have improved prospects for bountiful harvests, the intense rainfall of the last few days is expected to subside and move to the east in the next two-three days.

According to a report in the Business Standard,North India witnessed the fastest monsoon onset in 52 years but the low pressure area, built over north India, has now weakened, which will cause rains to subside and again gather steam over the North around June 25-26.

But does an early onset of southwest monsoon guarantee continued good performance for the rest of the season?

 Truant monsoon is not raining good news just yet

The rains usually cover all of India by mid-July, but this year it happened on June 16, the earliest such occurrence on record. Reuters

The rains usually cover all of India by mid-July, but this year it happened on June 16, the earliest such occurrence on record. Last year too, monsoons covered the whole of India four days ahead of schedule by 11 July but the overall rainfall was deficient and erratic, while a large part of southern and western India suffered from drought and grain output during the monsoon season fell by nearly 5 percent, as this oped suggests. '

Nearly a quarter of India was hit by drought last year, which helped underpin food inflation which has hovered near double digits for the last two years now. A weak monsoon further hurts farm workers, encourages hoarders and generally creates havoc in the economy.

While the Indian Meteorological Department expects 101% normal rainfall in July and 94% August, the Business Standard report points out that the US government's Climate Prediction Centre suspects that the Indian monsoon might begin to lose steam from next week itself and the overall rainfall may slip to a below-normal range in July.

India has more variations in soil type and climate than perhaps any other region in the world. So even during a normal monsoon season, many regions receive scanty rainfall while other battle with floods.

And while the drought-hit Maharashtra districts have started receiving some rainfall, according to the state government it is not enough, especially in Aurangabad, Nanded and Jalna district as the average rainfall in these areas has been about 100mm to 120 mm, which is not enough rain to bring relief to farmers.

The drought is so bad in Maharashtra that drinking supplies are running short. Nearly 12,000 villages have been affected and tanker trucks are out supplying water.

A normal monsoon forecast along with a smooth progress of southwest monsoon has already raised hopes of a bumper Kharif harvest in the coming season. ''However, it is too early to predict the same as the sowing and productivity of crops may depend on how the monsoon turns out in the month of July and August, which together accounts for around 65% of the total Southwest monsoon,''said Angel Broking in a report.

And even if these farmers do see a good monsoon, how does one insulate them from falling commodity prices, especially since the government does not provide for any crop insurance or safety nets. All that is offered is minimal government support through wheat and rice procurement while oher commodity farmers have to fend for themselves.

As this Economic Times article points out, "this year cotton prices could plunge in districts where the Cotton Corporation of India (the equivalent of FCI) is unable to reach ( cotton is India's biggest cash crop), while sugarcane farmers are cautious due to poor returns last season. Even an average-sized crop this September may leave them worried. Sugar mills are already complaining of losses. Many owe farmers money from last year. Put together, low commodity prices could play havoc with rural incomes."

To rely less on the vagaries of the monsoon rains, India needs to grow varieties of rice, pulses and oilseeds which are drought resistant, evolve early drought warning systems and improve meteorological tools to provide sharper forecasts.

Sunita Narain, Researcher, journalist and activist on environmental issues, is right when she says, "the monsoon is and will remain India's true finance minister. After all between 60 to 80 percent of the irrigated area is watered by groundwater -- a resource, which needs the rain to recharge and refill its supply.

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Updated Date: Dec 20, 2014 19:36:50 IST