Apart from potentially ruining lives and rural real estate of nearly 10 million people, cyclone Phailin will wreck a fertile rice-growing belt along India’s eastern coast, where the main summer crop is at a ripening stage. The damage could shave off 1% of India’s total rice output, according to one official’s estimates.
Andhra Pradesh and Odisha – two states to be most severely hit – contribute 12% and 7% to the country’s total rice output. A dip in cereal output could further stoke India’s food inflation, which rose a whopping 18% from a year ago in August , the latest month for which data are available.
The four districts in Odisha – Ganjam, Jagatsinghpur, Khurda and Puri – and Srikakulam in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, which are expected to bear the maximum brunt, are part of a prominent rice belt.
Shortage of rice could impact availability to meet requirements for the National Food Security Law, which seeks to give one-third of the population cereals at a fraction of their market price.
“The losses could be staggering. Such strong winds could flatten whole fields, or lodging in agricultural terminology. In Odisha we expect crop losses in at least eight districts. Rice output may go down by 1%,” T.K, Adhya, the head the Central Rice Research Institute, told HT.
The barreling cyclone could destroy about a million hectares of rice fields in Odisha alone, Adhya said. Going by average yields, one million hectare can roughly produce 2 million tonne of rice.
Most rice farmers along the east coast tend to grow a long-duration sturdier rice variety, the result of naturally adapting to a region prone to extreme weather, said AN Rao a senior rice scientist associated with the International Rice Research Institute said. “Yet, crops cannot withstand such intense winds,” he added.
The cyclone will push high-salt sea water inwards, which could additionally damage crop health. Although the cyclone would lose strength in about 24 hours after landfall, rainy weather could expand to states such as West Bengal, Bihar and Jharkhand. “This may result in higher losses,” Adhya said.