A warmer-than-usual September gave out signs that the agricultural distress could spill over to the winter-sowing season, aggravating the crisis in four drought-crippled states and several others struggling with tough farm conditions because of a poor monsoon.
A powerful El Nino, a weather glitch marked by higher sea temperatures, is blamed for what could be India’s worst drought in three decades, barring the one in 2009. The monsoon is now 16% deficient. To be sure, the meteorological department had forecast rains 12% below normal.
A slowing wholesale inflation rate and falling global commodity prices may not fan prices too high beyond a point, but a “seasonal shock” is forthcoming, analysts HT spoke to said. This means prices of perishables, such as fruits, vegetables and milk, could shoot up.
Karnataka is the first state to declare a drought in almost the entire state. Almost half of Maharashtra remains parched, although the state hasn’t yet notified a drought. Over a third of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are under stress.
Analysts said they expected the real impact of a dry August and September to show when farmers take to the fields to sow winter crops because soil moisture levels would be very low. “When the second half of the monsoon gets drier, that’s a bad sign for winter sowing,” said Ramesh Pawar, a government official in Maharashtra tasked to prepare a status report.
Nearly half of the country received below-normal rains, which means many states are left with pockets of weather-battered farms, especially those without irrigation facilities. These include the whole of eastern Madhya Pradesh, which produces rice and pulses; Chhattisgarh, which grows coarse cereals along with rice; and poll-bound Bihar.
The monsoon started on a weak note in June, but a surge meant the month ended with a 16% surplus. This helped tide over a significant 17% shortfall in July. However, August was worse with a 24% shortfall.
The four worst-affected states are responsible for one-third of the country’s food output. “Therefore, we are looking at a deficiency of roughly 10-11% dip in agricultural production since a 12% below-normal monsoon last year had cut food output similarly,” said Ashoke Lahiri of Comtrade, which monitors trade in farm items.
According to a report by Crisil, which a government official told HT they were studying, the popular tur dal, soyabean, cotton and coarse cereals could take a huge blow because of poor monsoon in regions where these are grown.
The government on Tuesday said it was making arrangements to provide alternatives to provide additional 50 days of man-work in drought-hit areas under the MGNREGA rural job scheme.
It had earlier announced a diesel subsidy since farmers rely on water pumps to irrigate fields. Also, states were allowed to use funds available under the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana and other schemes for drought mitigation.