For the second successive year, the monsoon will be below normal in India. That could trim farm output and push up food prices. This is not the first time that India has suffered weather-related instability in recent years. There was a drought in 2009.
A delayed and inconsistent spatial distribution of monsoon rains followed in 2012. A similar pattern of erratic and scanty summer rains came again in 2014. This year has been particularly bad. First, a spell of unseasonal winter hailstorms in February and March flattened ripening crops. Then a more than 16% deficiency in the summer rains has resulted in crippling drought in four states.
Scientists can now determine with accuracy the monsoon’s course and quality. The India Meteorological Department (IMD) had forecast accurately the quantum and distribution of this year’s monsoon. Regardless of the eventual course and quality of the summer rains, brought on by drafts of breeze that stream 8,000 km from the southern Pacific, the predictions do give an early heads up of what is likely in the next few months.
With better technology and the more rigorous statistical modelling, the predictions are getting more precise. We are already in a world where weather forecasts are broken down to almost hour-level ‘now-casting’. Predicting the course of rain-bearing drafts of breeze is a complex science. Early alerts are aimed at helping governments and farmers prepare for any eventuality.
The most tangible impact of the deficient rains is felt through higher inflation as crops get affected because of reduced supplies, raising final prices of food items.
Yet, what is worrying is the lack of a holistic effort in exploiting these forecasts to deal with other variables that are sensitive to weather shocks. Like meteorology, multiple regression and predictive statistical modelling can be used to accurately foretell price movements.
It is rather surprising that India continues to allow weather-related variables to vastly influence supplies, and therefore, prices of key staples. It is a no-brainer that investing in Indian agriculture’s future has become economically and politically critical.
It is about time to change the templates and strive for the similar accuracies in working out early alerts on probable price movements based on climatic forecasts.