If showers do not pick up in the next 45 days, India could be staring at a drought as bad as the last one in 2002-03, when productivity tanked by 18%, noted farm economist Abhijit Sen said on Saturday.
Sen, however, said the country’s response would predictably be better this time but the biggest worry still remained the impact on farmers’ incomes and food prices.
In his Independence Day speech on Saturday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh warned of tough measures against hoarding. "All efforts will be made to control rising prices of foodgrains,” he said.
The Met department on August 10 had trimmed its rain forecast, saying showers between June and September would be 13% lower than the normal, compared with the 7% shortfall predicted in June.
“If the government response is good, we will recover but the weather indications are no better (than in 2002-03),” the Planning Commission member in charge of food said.
Sen said India could end up with more drought-hit districts than in 2002-03.
When the final picture emerges by mid-2010, overall foodgrain output could drop to less than 200 million or about 195 million (compared to last year’s record production of 233.88 million tonnes), Sen said. This works out to a fall of 17 per cent.
This is a scenario is comparable to the 2002-03 drought, when foodgrain productivity dropped to 175 million from 213 million tonnes the previous year — a fall of about 18%.
Sen said the drought could shave off 1.3 per cent of agriculture’s GDP share of 17%. “But these are meaningless numbers for farmers. My worries are about the impact on farmer incomes and food prices,” Sen added.
Agriculture commissioner N B Singh said the government response has been agile.
“We could need contingency funds and the Empowered Group of Ministers will ensure cutting red-tape for emergency cash,” he said.