The country, on the whole, received more rainfall in 2017, spread over the winter, pre-monsoon, monsoon and post-monsoon seasons, than in the previous year (see table). Yet, the Central Statistics Office expects agricultural growth during 2017-18 to be only 2.1 per cent, as against last year’s 4.9 per cent. The agriculture ministry’s data, too, shows a drop in crop acreages this time, both in the kharif and the ongoing rabi planting seasons.
What explains this apparent divergence between (higher) rainfall and (lower) farm sector growth? Well, the main reason is the distribution of the rainfall. The whole of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh (UP), Madhya Pradesh (MP), Chhattisgarh and Vidarbha — even Punjab-Haryana for that matter, though farmers there have access to assured irrigation — has recorded very little rainfall after July. The extended dry spell in this contiguous agricultural belt has affected the rabi crop prospects in particular.
Lack of adequate soil and subsoil moisture has led to a reduction in wheat sowing area by 14.46 lakh hectares (lh) this year compared to 2016-17. Much of it is accounted for by MP (down 8.64 lh), UP (2.12 lh), Maharashtra (1.65 lh) and Rajasthan (1.49 lh). The other major rabi crop, rapeseed-mustard, has also registered significant acreage decline of 3.52 lh, led by Rajasthan (7.09 lh) even while partially made up through higher plantings in other states such as UP and MP.
2016, by contrast, saw more uniform rainfall distribution throughout India, barring the deep south. The stretch covering the old Mysore region and coastal Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala experienced rainfall deficiency during the 2016 southwest monsoon as well as post-monsoon (i.e. northeast monsoon) seasons. But this region isn’t, from a purely agricultural standpoint, as agriculturally important as central or northwest India. Moreover, the deep south has had good rains since July, helping it recover somewhat from the severe drought of 2016-17.
The best year, as far as the rains go in recent times, has been 2013. That was a year when not only did the aggregate rainfall turn out above the normal long period average, as the accompanying table shows, but its distribution, too, was uniform both spatially and temporally.