Scanty rains may affect the current kharif output. Farmers must consider short-duration crops
There is bad news for the UPA government on the food price front — regardless of RBI Governor YV Reddy’s latest overtures to combat inflation — thanks to a wayward southwest monsoon. The cumulative seasonal rainfall between June 1 and July 23 has been deficient and scanty in western and southern India, seriously affecting sowing operations during the current kharif or summer crop season. As many as 15 out of 36 meteorological sub-divisions experiencing rainfall deficiency are in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala. As June and July are critical months for kharif-sowing operations, acreage under cotton, groundnut, jowar and sugarcane has been much lower than last year and presages higher inflation.
Unless the monsoon revives, contingency measures are imperative in the affected states to ensure that farmers switch to alternative, shorter-duration crops. Although it is premature to proclaim drought-like conditions, state governments shouldn’t take any chances in reaching out to farmers in distress. The Gujarat government has instructed district collectors to carry out a detailed assessment of the situation. Matters are much worse in Maharashtra where the area under kharif crops has more than halved as three-fifths of the talukas received deficient rain. In Karnataka, rains are only a third of what is normal in July and the wells are running dry.
The prospect of drought-like conditions stalking the countryside, as in 2002-03 is, perhaps, the last thing the UPA government needs. This will test the effectiveness of its flagship social welfare schemes. With food prices likely to remain stubbornly high, it must ensure that the targeted public distribution system works better so that subsidised grain reaches the poor. The efficacy of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme is also worth watching. Not the least important is whether the farm loan waiver scheme makes any dent in the conditions of affected farmers in western and southern India. But all eyes will be on whether the southwest monsoon ensures near-normal rains over the season.