After two successive years of ‘above-normal’ rainfall, the country would witness ‘normal’ south-west monsoon in the current year with precipitation at 98% of the long period average (LPA), official weather forecaster said on Friday. If the prediction holds true, it would augur well for food grains production, and thereby the agriculture gross value added (GVA), but such forecasts have not always been accurate.
Also, through grains output has risen in recent years and agriculture sector in FY20 and FY21 remained a bright spot in a sagging economy, the link between overall monsoon rains and agricultural production has been rather tenuous. Of course, distribution and duration of rains do have a role in production of key grains, given that 52% of the crop area is still rain-fed.
Stating that seasonal rainfall this year, according to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) was likely to be 98% of LPA with a model error of +/-5%, M Rajeevan, secretary at ministry of earth sciences said that the precipitation could be normal across the country, barring Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, Assam and eastern Uttar Pradesh. “This will help India to have good agricultural output,” Rajeevan said.
He, however, cautioned that there was ‘a slight tendency’ of monsoon to be less than ‘normal’ as in all years following La Nina event.
“Normal monsoon forecast is a good start. But it needs to arrive on time and spread to all regions and crops for a good crop. That we will come to know from August onwards. If rains turn out to be deficient in states like Odisha, crops such as paddy could be affected. Other states which have access to river irrigation may not be affected,” said Madan Sabnavis, chief economist, CARE Ratings.
Some agriculture economists pointed out that with continuous rise in rice production – record 120.3 million tonne or 15% increase in last five years –, lower rainfall predicted for key growing eastern region including north Chhattisgarh and western West Bengal was an opportunity for farmers to shift from paddy to oilseeds. “The Centre needs to sit with these traditional rice-growing states and plan a scheme for diversification from paddy to help increase farmers’ income,” said BB Singh, a former agriculture scientist of ICAR. West Bengal is the largest rice-producing state.
Of course, a rise in grain output doesn’t necessarily translate into higher incomes for farmers. There have been instances in recent years of high production co-existing with rural distress with subdued farm-gate prices for paddy and wheat, in areas where official procurement is not robust. In the case of other crops like oil seeds, pulses and coarse cereals, the price support schemes are fare weaker.
The farming community has been asking for a legal framework ensuring purchase of crops at minimum support prices (MSPs).
Notwithstanding the controversy over farm-gate prices, the agriculture and allied sector is expected to re-emerge as saviour of the economy after the second wave of Covid-19 pandemic. As the economy was on path of recovery, with the rise of corona positive cases and subsequent control measures including lockdown, the government might again bring the focus on the farm sector, said Singh.
In the past two years, IMD’s first forecast normal monsoon – rainfall range of 96-104% of LPA — but in both the years, rains turned out to be above normal – 110% in 2019 and 109% in 2020. Since distribution of the rains were good, the crops were robust in both the years – an all-time high 297.5 million tonne in 2019-20 crop year (July-June) and 303.34 million tonne in 2020-21.
Agriculture GVA grew at 2.6% in FY19, 4.3% in FY20 and is estimated to grow at 3% in FY21. This was when the GDP growth in these years were 6.5%, 4% and (-)8% (second advance estimate) respectively. World Bank in its latest report has predicted that India’s real GDP growth for FY22 could be in 7.5-12.5% range.
The La Nina condition is predicted to be ENSO (El Niño Southern Oscillation) neutral during the upcoming June-September monsoon season. El Niño, which is associated with warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, normally brings lower monsoon rainfall, though there is no one-on-one relationship. It develops when the surface temperatures of the Pacific rise above normal. La Nina is opposite of El Nino and occurs when sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean drops below average.