India’s southwest monsoon has picked up sharply over the past two weeks, blunting fears of a drought and dip in farm output, though the rains continue to be less than normal.
Agriculture ministry officials perked up as data showed an increase in the net sown area, or total area under kharif (summer) crops — a sign of reviving monsoon.
“The rainfall a week ago was 36 per cent deficient. As of today, it is 24 per cent deficient,” agriculture commissioner N B Singh told HT.
The sowing area for all crops was near normal. There was some deficiency in rice, which, he said, could pick up as well.
Based on inputs of the metrological department, the Crop Weather Watch Group of the ministry estimates monsoon to go up to 101 per cent in August.
After a patchy start, the spectre of a failed monsoon loomed over the country’s huge farm economy at a time when India is struggling to crawl out of a sluggish economy.
The southwest monsoon, spanning June-September, is critical for the economy, as two-thirds of Indians depend on agriculture and large farming areas remain outside modern irrigation facilities.
The net sown area, which shrunk in June, has expanded for all major kharif crops to “near-normal” levels, particularly for oilseeds and pulses. There has been a seven-lakh hectare increase in the sowing area for cotton, government data said.
As on July 17, the total area under paddy stands at about 114.63 lakh hectares, an improvement of over 95 per cent from two weeks ago. But it is still way below last year’s 145.21 lakh hectares.
The monsoon was particularly weak over northern states like Punjab and Haryana, despite covering the entire country about 12 days in advance on July 3. Now it is near normal in central India, barring western Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
“However, the sowing window is still open till July-end. Water levels in reservoirs are going up and the gap in sowing area is decreasing,” AK Singh, deputy director-general of natural resources, told HT.
Water levels in 81 key reservoirs rose slightly following rains, but still remain less than half the last year's levels. Water level in these reservoirs stood at 20.731 billion cubic metres as of today, down 51.6 per cent from the same time last year.
The south-west monsoon accounts for about 80 per cent of India’s total rainfall. It is most active during July and August. Monsoon deficiencies have adversely affected agricultural production and therefore overall GDP growth.
In 2002, the country witnessed one of its worst droughts, pulling down agricultural growth significantly. As a result GDP growth had slowed from 5.8 per cent to 3.8 per cent in that year.