‘Normal’ monsoon likely for 3rd year in row, say experts

Scientists say current conditions suggest they should favour a normal 2021 monsoon, the lifeblood of Asia’s third-largest economy. As the country tries to claw out of a recession, patchy rains may weigh on recovery, analysts say.
The monsoon is critical because two-thirds of Indians depend on farm-based income and over 40% of the country’s net-sown cropped area does not have any form of irrigation.(AFP)
The monsoon is critical because two-thirds of Indians depend on farm-based income and over 40% of the country’s net-sown cropped area does not have any form of irrigation.(AFP)
Updated on Mar 13, 2021 02:57 AM IST
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India has received normal monsoon for two straight years, aiding a farm-driven economic recovery in a pandemic year. Sufficient June-to-September rains will be critical this year, but data show three consecutive normal monsoons are rare, occurring only once in the past two decades.

Scientists say current conditions suggest they should favour a normal 2021 monsoon, the lifeblood of Asia’s third-largest economy. As the country tries to claw out of a recession, patchy rains may weigh on recovery, analysts say.

The monsoon is critical because two-thirds of Indians depend on farm-based income and over 40% of the country’s net-sown cropped area does not have any form of irrigation.

Millions of farmers wait for the rains to begin summer sowing of crops, such as rice, sugar, cotton, pulses, horticulture produce and coarse cereals.

Agriculture, which contributes 39% to the rural economy, was able to shake off the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic because of normal rains and ample supplies of subsidised inputs, such a fertilisers, during the pandemic. The sector also benefited from fiscal support from the rural job guarantee scheme MGNREGA and PM Kisan, a cash-transfer programme for farmers.

Throughout the peak pandemic months, the farm sector was the only bright spot in the Indian economy. It grew 3.4% in the June 2020 quarter, when rest of the economy fell deep into recession of -24.4% due to a widespread lockdown.

Growth returned to positive territory in the December 2020 quarter, the latest available data, expanding 0.4%. Agriculture grew at 3.9% in the same period, compared to 3% in the previous quarter.

To be sure, the Reserve Bank of India and the official Economic Survey have forecast the economy to grow 10.5% and 11% respectively in the next fiscal, after a nearly 8% negative growth this fiscal.

Much depends on how the monsoon pans out. “After two consecutive years of normal monsoon, a third year of timely and well-distributed rains is not a given,” said DK Joshi, chief economist of Crisil Ltd, ratings firm.

The monsoon also replenishes 89 nationally important water reservoirs vital for drinking, power and irrigation. When rains lead to robust farm output, rural incomes rise and spending goes up on almost everything – television sets to gold.

For example, 48% of all motorcycles and 44% of TV sets are sold in rural India. Without this demand, industrial growth tends to slow down. Normal rains act as a strong check on inflation through plentiful food stocks.

The long-range forecast division of the India Meteorological Department is currently preparing to forecast the monsoon next month. “The indications (about the monsoon) are good. We have our fingers crossed,” an agriculture department official said.

The Indian monsoon usually ends up short when oceans temperatures in the Pacific are higher than normal, a weather pattern known as El Nino. The opposite happens, and rains are plentiful, when oceans are cooler, known meteorologically as La Nina. Both 2019 and 2020 fell in the latter category.

The monsoon also depends on what Met scientists call the Indian Ocean Dipole, which refers to the difference in sea-surface temperatures in two opposite parts of the Indian Ocean.

Scientists watching the monsoon say, till now, there aren’t signs of oceans warming. “The Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) (was) solidly in La Nina range in February, but down from January and peak in December. Downward trend of SOI continued in early March as ENSO marches toward neutral,” said Jason Nicholls, international forecasting manager at AccuWeather, a weather forecasting firm.

ENSO refers to a recurring weather pattern that influences ocean temperatures.

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Saturday, December 04, 2021