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Fresh farm worry as El Nino sets in, cloud over monsoon

The country could come under the grip of monsoon-destroying El Nino conditions after a spell of unseasonal rain and hailstorms destroyed swathes of rabi crops ripe for harvest, leading to farmer suicides in several states.

india Updated: Apr 17, 2015 00:45 IST
Zia Haq
Zia Haq
Hindustan Times
El Nino,rainfall,farmers

An El Nino condition that could weaken India’s monsoon, the lifeblood of Asia’s third-largest economy, has set in, a senior Met official has said ahead of the country’s official forecast on April 22.

He declined to comment on its impact on the monsoon, though El Nino has been known to often – if not always – trigger drier conditions and droughts in India.

“We are already into an El Nino phase,” said Damodar S Pai, lead monsoon forecaster at India Meteorological Department.

El Nino, meaning “little boy” in Spanish, is a glitch marked by higher temperatures in equatorial Pacific that upsets weather patterns worldwide.

Pai said he could not reveal the forecast for this year’s monsoon before it is officially made public.

Data from a 126-year period since 1880 show less than half of El Nino events have caused a poor monsoon.

Still, a change in pattern is noticed in the data since 1950 as 10 of the 13 droughts from that year onwards have coincided with an El Nino.

In 1997, a strong El Nino year, rainfall was normal. Yet, in 2009, an El Nino triggered India’s worst drought in three decades.

An update from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, which leads global forecasters in tracking El Ninos, said sea-surface temperatures “are now just shy of El Nino levels”. There’s at least a 70% chance that “El Nino thresholds” could be “reached or exceeded” as early as June.

“Whether it is the Australian prediction or us, the conclusion of an El Nino is same,” Pai said.

The developing El Nino, depending on its severity, could bring lower than average rainfall between June and September, India’s kharif or summer-sowing season. This could trim food output and hurt farm incomes.

Rain is critical as two-thirds of the population depends on farm income and nearly 60% of summer-sown areas do not have assured irrigation. Kharif crops account for nearly half of India’s food output, including rice, lentils, sugar, spices, mangoes and oilseeds. The country is already reeling under a series of unseasonal rain and hailstorms that has damaged crops in 16% of total area sown in the winter.

Read: India agonises over a critical monsoon again

First Published: Apr 16, 2015 21:09 IST