Mystery monsoon: How we went from drought to bumper crop

"India is headed for its second drought in four years, a worrisome eventuality that policymakers fret could drive food prices sharply higher and drag down economic growth into an even lower orbit," Firstpost had posted on 1 August.

"As millions of farmers in India continue to wait for the season's monsoon rains, vital for the country's agriculture and power sector, the Indian Meteorological department says that it expects at least 10 percent less rain this year," Al Jazeera had reported a few days later, on 5 August.

And then, a few days ago, we saw this. "India, facing its second drought in just four years, expects food grain output in the 2012/13 (July-June) crop year to be better than 2009/10, Minister of State for Agriculture Harish Rawat said on Thursday. "We are expecting better food grain production this year as the drought area is less this year compared to 2009/10 and as we are better prepared. We have already put in place contingency plan for drought-hit areas," Rawat said," Economic Times reported on 16 August.


And today, we see this. "The late surge in monsoon rainfall has rejuvenated the rice crop, halved power rates in the overheated spot market, and filled up reservoirs to normal levels, calming fears of scarcity of food, water and electricity. The situation is forecast to improve further this week, with heavy showers expected to narrow down the seasonal rainfall deficit, which has already halved from about 30% at the end of June to 16%," again, in The Economic Times.

In this age of breaking news and day-to-day updates, both the media and the meteorological department forget that the monsoon is a 'season' that begins in June and ends in September, not a day or a week. Media, desperate for headlines (and 'Man bites dog' makes for a better headline than 'Dog bites man') that say the monsoon has failed, has kept interpreting the rainfall data pessimistically, forgetting that the 'season' has some more time to go. As of today, the country, on the whole, has a rainfall deficit of 18 percent, which, by the definition used by the meteorological department, is a 'normal' monsoon. Today's update from the Indian Meteorological Department suggests that, over the next few days, things will improve in the north western states, where the monsoon has under-delivered the most (-25 percent).

The drought-to-bumper crop headline change is symptomatic of all that is wrong with Indian media today. Common sense tells us that, in any year, in any monsoon, even with any season, there will be delays or early arrivals. We have early summers sometimes, early winter sometimes, a few hot days in the winter or a few rainy days in the summer. The other seasons do not impact the economy as much as the monsoons do.

Headlines of a possible drought or a failed monsoon affect sentiment, causing the stock market to fall, causing food inflation fuelled by belief in an impending shortage.

Perhaps this calls for editors to not define a monsoon as a failure or a success until there is enough data to pronounce it one. Patently, all the announcements made by media till today have been uninformed and made with inadequate data.

Consider this: "Farmers and scientists say if the rains continue for another fortnight, rice output may reach close to last year's record 102.75 million tonnes," says The Economic Times today.

From a drought to a record crop. All it has taken is 20 days for the picture to change so dramatically.

For media, sadly, 20 minutes is too long to wait, let alone 20 days.

Updated Date: Dec 20, 2014 12:21 PM

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