The four-month monsoon season ended last week leaving a deficit of 12 per cent. The authorities have called it a below-normal monsoon and the worst in the past five years, but skim the data and the picture seems even more sobering. Nearly one-third of the 36 met divisions in the country have received deficient rainfall, with Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh — which are major agriculture regions — reporting a 50 per cent deficit. The surplus rain in September, which led to flash floods in many states, further disrupting the agriculture cycle, helped bridge the deficit and avoid a drought, but the lack of rain in June — 60 per cent less than normal — affected sowing and the impact would be seen in food production.
A 7 per cent fall in production over last year’s harvest has been predicted. Haryana and UP, for instance, have already declared drought. Any fall in the supply of foodgrains could trigger food inflation: a poor harvest in India tends to cause a hike in commodity prices in the global market as well. By all accounts, the government must plan ahead to address the fallout of a poor agriculture season. Though agriculture now contributes only 14 per cent of India’s GDP, over 50 per cent of the workforce is employed by the sector. The large buffer stock of grains could be used to manage supply shortages and keep prices under check. The MGNREGS could be deployed to help address rural distress in drought-affected areas.
With over 60 per cent of farms dependent solely on the rains for irrigation, the monsoon has long been known to make or break the lives of Indian farmers. Grandiose irrigation schemes are routinely conceived but the outcomes suffer from tardy implementation and failure to meet targets like storage and distribution, as is evident in states like Maharashtra. With many experts predicting that erratic monsoons are here to stay due to climate change, there is an urgent need to expand the irrigation infrastructure intelligently. More localised irrigation structures need to be built — MGNREGS workers can help here. Better crop planning and promotion of water conserving practices like the system of rice intensification are necessary. The Centre and the states should join hands to revamp agriculture extension services so that plans conceived by experts in the government and research institutions percolate down to the farmers. There is no time to be lost, the planning should begin now.