37% districts short of rain despite average monsoon; September crucial (Special to IANS)

After two consecutive droughts, India received average rainfall — 2 per cent less than the 100-year average — by the end of August 2016, but within that range, more than a third of the country is short of rain, according to India Meteorological Department (IMD) data.

In 610 of 641 districts for which data is available, 389 districts received average or excess rain, while 221 received deficient or scanty rain in the first three months of the four-month-long monsoon season. This means September rainfall will now be important to make up for these widespread deficits.

The sowing of kharif (summer monsoon) crop was 5 per cent more than the average by August-end because more than half of India’s districts received average rain, reiterated by the Reserve Bank of India in its 2015-16 annual report: “As on August 18, 2016, the cumulative rainfall was at its long period average (LPA) level as against 9 per cent below LPA in the corresponding period of the previous year, leading to an increase of 6.5 per cent in kharif sowing, thus far.”

The monsoon deficit is the greatest in northeast India, which is between 30 per cent to 40 per cent — repeating the situation in 2013 — followed by Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat and Kerala, where the deficit is between 20 per cent and 30 per cent of the average.

Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra have received 20 per cent more rain than average.

Though the area sown is more than the average, some crops have taken a hit.

While 40 per cent more pulses were sown than average till the end of August, cash crops like sugarcane and cotton were 15 per cent short of the average.

Extreme rainfall events in central India, the core of the monsoon system, are increasing and moderate rainfall is decreasing — as a part of complex changes in local and world weather — according to a clutch of Indian and global studies reviewed by IndiaSpend in April 2015.

Over a third of India — 221 of 610 districts — is short of rain in a year when the government’s weather agency, the IMD, and private weather agencies, such as Skymet and Weather Risk Management Services, and international monitoring agencies such as the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, USA, had predicted an above-average monsoon for 2016.

The three monsoon months of 2016 bettered the three deficit years of 2012, 2014 and 2015 but lagged 2011 and 2013, which were average monsoon years, with respect to the proportion of districts facing rain shortfalls.

Rains were scarce in a fourth of districts in 2011 and 2013, a third of districts in 2016 and half of India’s districts in 2012 and 2014.

The average sowing area in India till August-end is 97 million hectares, against which 102 million hectares has been sown for the kharif season 2016.

Sown area by the end of the kharif sowing season is 106 million hectare, which is normally achieved by the first week of September.

Irregular rainfall in the cotton-belts of Maharashtra and deficient rains in Gujarat have resulted in less-than-average sowing of cotton.

In Maharashtra, sowing of jowar (sorghum) — a traditional non-irrigated crop — dipped 20 per cent, from 6.1 lakh hectares to 4.9 lakh hectares.

The sowing of soyabean, a relatively new entrant on farms, is growing. The area under soyabean in Maharashtra was 3.9 million hectare, 0.5 million above the average of 3.4 million hectare, as of August-end.

“The cost of cultivation for cotton is high, and has risen especially after 2008-09,” Ayaz Khan, a soyabean and tur cultivator from Vidarbha, told IndiaSpend.

Unirrigated cotton produces a fourth to a fifth of the yield of irrigated cotton; 200 to 300 kg per acre against 1,000 kg per acre, said Khan. “Soyabean gives you assured output in less than three months without irrigation. Further, tur and soyabean require less human effort to cultivate.”

(31.08.2016 – In arrangement with IndiaSpend.org, a data-driven, non-profit, public interest journalism platform, with whom Abhishek Waghmare is an analyst. The views expressed are those of IndiaSpend. Feedback at respond@indiaspend.org)

–IANS/IndiaSpend

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