Will drought hit crop output?

While kharif crops will be affected, rabi crops have assured irrigation

Depleted reservoirs and parched lands await the onset of the south-west monsoon. The water level in key reservoirs across the country is fast receding, going by data from the Central Water Commission (CWC). The storage levels in 91 reservoirs have dropped from 95.693 bcm (billion cubic metres) in September to 72 bcm in December and are now at 30.709 bcm (as of May 5).

The total storage capacity of these 91 reservoirs is 157.79 bcm, which is 62 per cent of the total capacity of all reservoirs in the country. Going by the latest CWC data released on Friday, the current storage is only 19 per cent of the capacity of the reservoirs and about 77 per cent of what it was in the same period last year.

Depletion of water

The situation is the worst in the southern region that covers Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka. The 31 reservoirs here, tracked by CWC, now hold just 6.14 bcm of water (21 per cent of storage of last year). In the West that includes Gujarat and Maharashtra, the major reservoirs together hold just 4.56 bcm of water (30 per cent of last year).

One reason for the depletion of water in the reservoirs is the deficient rains for the last two years. 2015 was the second consecutive year of failure of south-west monsoon. The cumulative rainfall in the country during the post-monsoon period (October to December) last year was also below normal (23 per cent of the Long Period Average).

It needs to be seen how States will handle the water scarcity challenge until the south-west monsoon arrives this year (more than a month from now). As per data from the Centre, about 254 districts (of the total of 678) across 10 States and a total of 330 million people, which is more than a fourth of the country’s total population, seem to have been impacted by the drought.

Experts blame the El Nino for the severe drought condition in the country. However, the IMD’s prediction that El Nino is likely to enter the ‘neutral’ zone by May is good news. Unless the monsoon begins in time, water shortage will only get acute.

Despite a deficient rain in kharif 2015 and poor soil moisture in the following rabi season, the sowing was good in the October- December period.

Crop output

As per the second advance estimates from the Centre on rabi crops released end-February, the area sown under pulses in 2015-16 was higher relative to 2014-15. In coarse cereals, it was only marginally lower. The Union Agriculture and Farmer Welfare Minister, Radha Mohan, was quoted in The Hindu as saying that the rabi output in 2015-16 will increase. “We have received a second survey report, on the basis of which it has been projected that the rabi crop output will be higher this year than last year despite drought and related problems”.

But, given the erratic weather conditions in the last two-three months and drought in western parts of the country, will rabi output suffer? N Chattopadhyay, Deputy Director-General in IMD, Pune - Agriculture Meteorology division, says, “Rabi crops have assured irrigation. Whenever there is drought, it is always the rain-fed kharif crops that are impacted. But again, this time, as drought in some parts such as Marathwada in Maharashtra has been severe, the output in some rabi crops may be lower.”

Wheat is also a rabi crop where temperature during harvest time is what matters. The output for this crop may be good. Jatin Singh, CEO of Skymet Weather, says the light showers in the first and second week of March in the wheat-growing regions in the North have helped the crop and its output is likely to be higher.

Impact of the drought may actually be felt in jowar, ragi, maize and groundnut to an extent, says Madan Sabnavis, Chief Economist of CARE. However he cautions that “This drought may impact kharif prospects as the land is parched now due to absence of moisture. The south-west monsoon, even if normal, may not help if it doesn’t set in at the right time.”

Chattopadhyay belies such fears. “Rains have already started in Kerala and South-interior Karnataka and we are advising farmers to start nursery preparation for kharif sowing. In the next one to two weeks, there will be good pre-monsoon showers and as forecast, it will be a good monsoon this year.”

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