Uneven, sub-par monsoon drags kharif sowing
An erratic monsoon, consistent with weather patterns thought to be linked to the climate crisis, has been a drag on India’s summer or kharif crops, with planting down 8% from a year ago, official data shows. Farmers have only a slim window or time-frame left for normal sowing, which is usually until the last week of July.
The June-to-September rainy season is critical for the Indian economy, Asia’s third largest, as nearly half the population depends on the farm sector and almost 60% of the net-sown area lacks irrigation access.
Good summer harvests, which boost rural income, are important to support the broader economy trying to recoup losses from a second wave of Covid-19 during April and May.
The rain-bearing system, which was nearly 8% deficient around the middle of July since its onset, has picked up. The rain tapered off around June 19 unexpectedly. The deficit, as on July 25, has narrowed. The monsoon is now 1% lower than normal.
Rainfall was fairly poor in many parts in the initial weeks of July, agriculturally the most critical month. More than the deficiency, this year’s uneven rain has been a cause of concern, agriculturally and climate-wise.
When compared to normal levels for this time of the year, total sowing is down 3%, the latest available official data shows. Average acreage of the past five years is considered normal.
“I expect sowing to catch up as the rains have revived,” said KJ Ramesh, a climatologist and former chief of the India Meteorological Department, the national weather forecast agency.
Longer monsoon pauses and short spurts of very heavy rainfall are tell-tale signs of the climate crisis, experts say. “The consensus is that the number of rainy days will decrease because of climate change but overall quantum of rainfall will remain same. So, there will be segments or periods of very heavy rain,” Ramesh said.
Jeet Singh Sandhu, vice-chancellor of the SKN Agricultural University, Jaipur, said: “Rainfall in the month of July is most important for kharif crops. The sowing window lasts till about July 25-28 after which late-sown varieties can be sown.” Most such crop varieties are a fallback option.
“There could be a major shift in soybean, cotton and maize acreages across the rainfall deficit states if monsoon fails to revive as forecast,” said Hetal Gandhi, an economist with Crisil Ltd, Mumbai, a ratings firm.
As on July 23, farmers have planted 72 million hectare in all compared to 79 last year. The normal area for the corresponding week is about 74 million hectares.
The area under rice, the biggest summer staple, stands at nearly 20.7 million, which is nearly normal but less than the 22 million hectares sown last year.
However, pulses sowing has taken a hit, with farmers being able to sow about 87 million hectare, which is 12% below normal. The country occasionally witnesses a shortage of pulses. Soaring prices of pulses prompted the government to invoke the Essential Commodities Act on July 7 to regulate its trade. The curbs were eased last week.
The acreage for oilseeds, which give edible oil, stands at 14.5 million hectare against a normal of 14.7 million hectare. Coarse cereals have been sown on 11 million hectares, down from a normal of 13 million hectare, a 15% shortfall.
India meets two-thirds of its domestic edible oil requirements through import. Last month, the government had to cut duties on edible palm oil by 5% and lifted restrictions in its imports to ease prices.
The monsoon has dumped catastrophic excess rainfall in some states, such as Maharashtra, where flooding has claimed several lives.