Green spell for farmers on the cards

Skymet predicts above-normal monsoon rainfall but some pockets may receive less

The India Meteorological Department has predicted above-normal rainfall this year in the June-September period at 106 per cent of the Long Period Average (LPA), with a model error of +/- 5 per cent.

The chances of a below-normal or deficient monsoon is only 5 per cent and 1 per cent, respectively, as the El Nino conditions are set to moderate. “Analysis of previous data shows that monsoon season rainfall over the country as a whole was deficient or below normal during 65 per cent of the El Nino years. However, over 71 per cent of the years followed by El Nino years, monsoon was normal and above the LPA. The latest forecast from the Monsoon Mission Couple Climate Model indicates that El Nino conditions will weaken to moderate or weak levels during the first half of the monsoon season…”

This is good news as it comes after two successive years of deficient monsoons. In 2015, the south-west monsoon ended with an overall deficit of 14.3 per cent after a deficit of 11.9 per cent in the 2014 monsoon as well.

The country’s foodgrain production has hence dropped sharply. From a record production of 265 million tonnes in 2013-14, it dropped to 252.02 million tonnes in 2014-15 and is estimated to be at 253.16 million tonnes in 2015-16 with crops such as sugarcane, tur, coarse cereals and soyabean likely to see a 4-12 per cent drop in output.

With two successive years of drought, the water level in major reservoirs across the country has also diminished. Currently (as on April 7), according to the Central Water Commission (CWC), the total water stored in 91 reservoirs that it monitors is 37.92 BCM (billion cubic meter) which is less than a fourth (24 per cent to be precise) of their capacity and 77 per cent of the average availability during the last 10 years.

Compared to the same time last year, the water available is just 69 per cent. Of the five regions, the south, which includes Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, is the worst hit. In the 31 reservoirs in this region monitored by CWC, the total water available as on April 7 was 8.08 BCM — which is just 16 per cent of their capacity and 27 per cent of the average storage of the last 10 years. If 2016 turns into a drought year again, farm production will be severely hit.

Risky regions

Though it is expected that the country may receive above-normal rainfall in this year’s south-west monsoon season, there are areas that are likely to see lower rainfall. GP Sharma, Head-Meteorology, Skymet, says, “Even the best of monsoons leave some districts with scanty rainfall. So, this year too, though pan-India it is going to be a good monsoon, south-east parts of the peninsula that includes Tamil Nadu, parts of Karnataka, Rayalaseema, along with north-east India may see low rainfall…”

The west coast and central parts of India, which were hit by a severe drought in the last two years, should, however receive good amount of rainfall, says Skymet.

This includes Marathwada and Vidarbha in Maharashtra. Last year, more than 3,000 farmers in Maharashtra had committed suicide due to mounting debts, according to the Centre’s data.

Inflation outlook

The drought and subsequent crop failures have hit farmers badly. Consumers, though, didn’t feel the heat much as the crash in commodity markets globally gave them the needed relief.

Recent data shows that CPI inflation hit a six-month low of 4.83 per cent in March with a drop in food prices (5.52 per cent in February to 5.27 per cent March), especially pulses, and lower inflation in fuel prices.

However, depending on the diet pattern of individuals, inflation may still pinch, as the prices of pulses are still 30-35 per cent higher over last year. So, a good monsoon is crucial to bring down prices of key food items.

Madan Sabnavis, Chief Economist, CARE, says, “The forecast from IMD does not tell anything more than the assumption of ‘normal monsoon’ which we do take into account when forecasting inflation for the year. So, we believe that inflation will hover in the range of 5-5.5 per cent with food inflation also in the same range.”

So, what’s the outlook on pulses specifically? “It depends on how the monsoon spreads to the Deccan area which grows tur and urad. The chana crop this year is sub-normal, which tends to push up prices of the entire basket. Therefore, careful monitoring is essential to ensure that we can import in case of shortfalls. Only then can price rise be negated. The MSPs will also play a role as we tend to increase them sharply whenever there is crop failure in the previous year,” he adds.

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