Monsoon delivers a hard blow to farmers

Amount of rainfall (Source: IMD)
Amount of rainfall (Source: IMD)

High food Inflation has been pinching Indians for the last few months and with the current monsoon not being very generous to farmers, the situation is only expected to worsen. As of August 29th, rainfall deficiency in the country was 18 per cent, a much improved figure from the 41 per cent deviation recorded at the start of monsoon. This was all thanks to heavy showers, which also led to floods in Odisha, Assam and Bihar.

The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) downgraded its prediction for overall rainfall deficiency from 7 per cent to 13 per cent, which brings the country closer to drought. A drought is declared when overall deficiency is more than 10 per cent and over 20 per cent of country’s area is affected by drought-like conditions.

IMD is still hoping for the figures to improve by the time the clouds recede from the country in September. Most of the northwest, which makes the maximum contribution to the nation’s granaries, has not had much rainfall. The decline ranges from 65 per cent in the case of Punjab to 40 per cent in eastern Uttar Pradesh. 

Western Rajasthan and Vidarbha, two of the most water-stressed regions of India known for distress migration and farmer suicides respectively, are staring at a greater crisis if the current trend of deficient rainfall continues.

By August 29, kharif crops were sown in 966.25 lakh hectares. Last year, the figure was 998.01 lakh hectares during the same period. The major drop in acreage has been for coarse cereals, oilseeds and pulses. 

The Centre has raised to 50 per cent the subsidy ceiling to buy seeds from the existing level. At present, seed subsidy is given in the range of Rs 1,500-5,000 per quintal under the National Food Security Mission depending on the varieties of seeds to partially compensate farmers for re-sowing crops in drought-declared areas. However, none of the states has declared drought yet. “Drought has become a political issue in India. If a state government declares drought, it has to pay 50 per cent of the relief amount to the farmers before the Centre releases its share. Today, each state wants a relief package but without having to shell out anything,” Sharma says.

The major reservoirs of the country were filled to less than two thirds of their total capacity (155.05 billion cubic metres) on August 21, which is 85 per cent down from last year. This will not only impact irrigation of both the kharif and rabi crops, but will also impact the production of power, some of which is again used for irrigation through tubewells. 

Impact of drought on food production

Detailed inputs from states across India are noted below.

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Rajasthan: Low on deficit, high on impact

While the IMD’s data says that rainfall deficit is 19 per cent in western Rajasthan, which manifests into a big chasm in the desert area, Rawat Ram of Todah village in Bikaner has sown drought-resistant crops like guar, moth beans and bajra and is staring at crop failure.

“The rainfall has been very low and even the minimum required water has been hard to come by. Only dust storms are billowing,” he says. The area’s groundwater table is at 800 feet and few farmers can afford a borewell which costs Rs 7-8 lakh. “Even those having borewells have to get them redug as the water table is receding by 20 feet every year. While distress migration is common for our region, this time the situation will be more acute”, Ram says.

Girdhari Singh of Sambhaav, a group working with people on water conservation in Jaisalmer district, believes that more than food crops, it’s the low fodder production which will hit people harder. “Since most of the agriculture is rainfed, people here depend largely on livestock. However, low rainfall means the coming months will be tough,” he says.

Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Bikaner and Barmer in Western Rajasthan have over 23 per cent of total livestock population of the state, which contributes 8 per cent to the state’s GDP. The Centre has decided to give an additional allocation of Rs 100 crore for the Accelerated Fodder Development Programme in states where there is a possibility of fodder shortage but the modalities are yet to be worked out.

Drought in Jhalawar in the eastern part of Rajasthan with an average rainfall of 1020 mm surprises many. Contrary to popular belief, this higher rainfall area in eastern Rajasthan is more drought prone than areas in the arid west. Rainfall here is highly variable and there are frequent dry spells.

This year the delay in monsoon in July was followed by heavy downpour since early August. Due to this the kharif crop of soyabean got damaged and had to be sown twice. Coping with low rainfall followed by sudden monsoon downpour is a major challenge this year. In instances like this institutional support could have facilitated adaptation to shifting weather conditions and fluctuations in crop prices.

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Punjab: Pushes drought under the carpet

The green saplings cover the whole expanse of the ground till one’s eye meets the horizon. The paddy season is in full swing as fields lay flooded and the sun shines brightly overhead. It’s hard to imagine that Punjab is one of the worst affected by deficient monsoons this year. Till August 29th, the deficiency was 65 per cent, the highest in the country. Low rainfall does not spell out as drought in Punjab, at least not on the surface since the decrease in cropped area is only 38,000 hectares over the last year. But lying invisible to an onlooker, the underbelly rumbles and prays for a downpour every day.

It is this underground vault that serves 73 per cent of Punjab’s irrigated area, the rest being served by surface canals. To draw out this water, farmers use over 3 lakh pumps running mostly on diesel as the much touted free power provided by the state government is unreliable. “The power supply is not sufficient to ensure flood irrigation essential for rice. This is why we need to use diesel which escalates the input cost by Rs 6,000-8,000 per acre (1 acre equals 0.4 hectare),” says Gurtej Singh, a farmer at Mehatpur village in Jalandhar.

State government officials claim that the power consumption in the state has jumped by 22 per cent as compared to the 8 per cent rise usually seen in the kharif season. Punjab had to buy extra electricity to ensure that the crop is not affected. “The impact of deficient rain is a 15 per cent increase in input cost. The state will spend Rs 1447 crore extra on electricity due to failure of monsoon. Of this, around Rs 700 crore will be expenditure by farmers who use diesel motor pumps and who got their borewells redug to reach the depleting water table. They have been able to help the country save 11 lakh metric tons of rice worth Rs 30,000 crore,” claims Suresh Kumar, Punjab’s Financial Commissioner (Development).

On this count, the state government has asked the Centre for Rs 2,350 crore as compensation. During the 2009 drought, the state was given about Rs 800 crore by the Centre. The state also claims that it would have to spend Rs 30 crore extra to restore rural drinking water supply infrastructure and Rs 20 crore on providing fodder to cattle. “We have around 11,000 water supply schemes, of which 8,000 are in rural areas. Since most of these schemes are dependent on groundwater, we may be required to redig the borewells,” Kumar says. This means the already depleting groundwater table will drop even further. Of the 138 blocks in the state, 81 per cent are either overexploited or critical in terms of groundwater.

The Centre has announced a diesel subsidy for irrigation in states where rainfall shortage is over 50 per cent. But this may not be of much help to Punjab’s farmers as maximum water is used during the initial period of the crop. “Farmers use diesel to draw out water for puddling of the field and flood irrigation during initial days of rice transplantation while the Centre provides assistance for use from July 15 onwards,” Rangi says. The Punjab Farmers’ Commission has instead demanded a bonus of Rs 150 per quintal on the minimum support price (MSP) of paddy.

Basmati to the rescue

Punjab has recorded very less rains this season but 3 lakh pumps help pump out groundwater for irrigation.

What has appeared as a silver lining is that many farmers have taken to cultivation of basmati rice this year around. Basmati is sown late and hence offers flexibility to the farmers to adjust to delayed rains. Since the government does not procure this variety of rice under assured MSP, farmers had been ignoring it. But thanks to high demand in the international market last year, basmati fetched between Rs 3,000-Rs 6,000 per quintal depending upon the variety.

Baldev Singh of Talwandi Bhaneria village in Moga district has doubled the area under basmati this year. “I had sown around 3 acres of basmati last year but this year it has been increased to 8 acre. This is the best crop to grow this year as the rainfall is scanty,” he says.

In 2013-14, Punjab had about 5.59 lakh hectares of area under basmati. “This year, basmati has been planted in 8 lakh hectare while the non-basmati rice area has declined by 31 per cent. However, as more farmers grow basmati, there can be a glut of produce in the international market thus crashing the prices,” cautions P S Rangi, consultant with Punjab State Farmers’ Commission. Two years ago, basmati growers got only Rs 1,500-1,800.

Deficient monsoon is also acting as a blessing in disguise for the farmers. “The yield per hectare will rise as more number of sunny days hastens the photosynthesis helping the plant to grow faster. Also, the number of pest attacks during dry season is much less,” Rangi says.

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Bundelkhand: Another drought in offing

With the failure of monsoon this year, a drought-like situation is looming large in Bundelkhand, a region already known for being drought-prone. Comprising seven districts of Uttar Pradesh (UP) and six districts of Madhya Pradesh (MP) with a population of approximately 18.3 million (Census 2011), Bundelkhand is a typical semi-arid region.

The monsoon arrived late at most places with long gaps between two spells of rainfall. At the same time, Lalitpur district is struggling with floods. But Bundelkhand’s drought crisis cannot be purely explained by the lack of rainfall. 

Drought acquires a different meaning in the context of a pulses and oilseed-based agricultural system marked by high cultivation costs and high debts. Apart from structural factors “the neglect of traditional water management systems and push towards cultivation of water-intensive commercial crops” (Drought by design, January 30, 2010 Vol XIV no 5, EPW), have a role to play in making the region vulnerable to drought.

Drought has led to huge indebtedness among the people and large-scale migration from Bundelkhand to urban areas. This year farmers are finding it hard to complete sowing operations in this red and black soil area. Distress sale of cattle and their abandonment has been reported as farmers are unable to arrange for their fodder. According to a recent report by DNA, dacoit gangs in Banda and Chitrakoot district of Bundelkhand have “imposed a water tax on the helpless villagers of this area, which is experiencing one of its worst drought spells at present”.

The arid spell since 2000 has lasted for a total of around seven years. Historically, drought-related mortality was unknown in Bundelkhand (Raychaudhuri et al 1983, p. 531) but suicides are common nowadays. Malnutrition is common in the region and reports suggest that in Bundelkhand “there have been around 5000 farmer suicides in the last five years”.

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Central India: Late rains are of no help

According to IMD’s data, Chhattisgarh has a rain deficit of 10 per cent. Not only has the rain been delayed but it was also sporadic thereby affecting the sowing season.
The Chhattisgarh government has directed district officials to make agriculture contingency plans for each district. “The delay in monsoon will not have much impact on the crop production in our district”, says Dilip Sahu, a farmer and a resident of Kanker district of Chhattisgarh.

Most parts of western and northern MP have recorded deficit rainfall. The areas of Ratlam, Jhabua, Dhar, Ujjain and Dewas besides Morena, Bhind, Chhatarpur, Panna, Satna and Shahdol are also facing drinking water shortages and if the current trend of rainfall continues, then it will be difficult for the government to handle this water crisis at such a large scale.

Late and deficient rainfall can impact the growth of soyabean crop in Betul, Madhya Pradesh.The Madhya Pradesh government is ready with the twin contingency emergency plan to tackle drought and floods in the state. In Betul district, soyabean is a major crop and villagers depend on forest produce during the rest of the year.

This time however, the growth of soyabean crop is stunted and farmers are not expecting a good yield. “The monsoon arrived one month late and though it rained heavily, most of this happened in a few days. Since we have laterite soil, most of the water drained out. Each plant is bearing 4-5 pods as compared to 50-100 pods during normal times,” says Galuabrao Banjara of Jawara village.Soyabean fetches Rs 2,500-4,000 per quintal due to high export demand. “This is the only crop most farmers grow here which is why low and untimely rainfall is a matter of concern this year,” says Poonaji Kapse of Naman Credit and Savings Cooperative, which gives farm loans in the area.

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Maharashtra: Marathwada and Vidarbha in deep crisis

The monsoon period in the state of Maharashtra this year seems to be dominated by delays over the first two months followed by considerable variations in rainfall patterns over the state with normal to heavy rains in certain parts and drought-like conditions in the other.

Drought has badly affected the rainfed regions of Maharashtra. While Marathwada has registered a decline of 47 per cent rainfall by August 29, Vidarbha has received 26 per cent less rainfall. “It is a difficult time for farmers as they are already in debt. We hope that the government will take appropriate measures on an urgent basis in this critical time”, says Amol Sakharkar, technical expert of diversion-based irrigation systems at Yavatmal.

Lack of rains combined with dangerous drops in groundwater levels in the region have created the risk of severe drought-like conditions. The reduction of groundwater levels in 31 talukas of the region have reached worrying levels with 28 of them having a reduction of around 0 to 1 metre and the remaining three from 1 to 2 metres (Sakal, Pune, 8th August 2014).

The region is being supplied with hundreds of water tankers in the middle of the monsoon this year. 559 villages and 365 hamlets across the 76 talukas of the eight districts of Marathwada are being supplied with water tankers since the wells have dried up (The Times of India, Pune, August 14, 2014).

The situation of farmers in the region is grave since 79% of the sowing done by the farmers is on the verge of being wasted due to lack of timely rains. Many of the farmers say that they cannot take the risk of sowing a second time due to the unpredictability of the rains and lack of adequate financial resources. Two consequent years of drought in the region has led to a financial crisis for around 8,80, 911 farmers who are already in debt (Sakal, Pune, 8th August 2014).

Recently, the Maharashtra cabinet declared 123 talukas of the total 355 as suffering from drought-like conditions. The declaration will help farmers get benefits like restructuring of crop loans, a waiver of interest on the loans, 33 per cent rebate in power tariffs for agricultural pumps and school and colleges fee waiver for their children.

Due to unpredictable rainfall, the state government has also decided to implement the National Crop Insurance scheme for kharif crop which is designed to compensate farmers for damage on the basis of crop yield.

“It’s still August, but several parts of Marathwada are already staring at acute water scarcity. It hasn’t rained in many parts. Peasantry stands wrecked. There will be huge crop losses. It is difficult to fathom the cumulative impact on rural economy in those areas, but if it doesn’t rain now, we’ll see human migration”, says Jaideep Hardikar, a Senior Journalist with The Telegraph based in Nagpur.

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Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar: Flood today, drought tomorrow

This is pretty much the condition of the states that lie in the shadow of the Himalayas. Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have been oscillating wildly between the seemingly contradictory tragedies of drought and flood this monsoon. It began when the monsoon was delayed by several weeks instead of it reaching Uttarakhand by the second week of June. It used to be just in time to assist the summer vegetable crops. The monsoon showers also helped the formation of the early summer fruits- apricots and plums.

This year, June passed by in vain. The delay in the rains led to skyrocketing prices for both the fruit and the vegetables- tomatoes were retailing for upwards of Rs 50 per kg. The farmers would gladly have taken advantage of high prices, but their own crops did not meet expectations due to the scarcity of water. A little to the south, the all-important paddy transplanting in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar was delayed. Farmers in Uttar Pradesh can expect losses of up to a fifth in summer-sown crops like rice, corn, cane, soybean and cotton .

When the rains did come, they did so with a vengeance. David Hopkins, who has been maintaining weather records in Kausani for the last 30 years, confirmed that this July was the wettest one in the records. This led to landslides in Uttarakhand with much damage to roads and homes. The damage in Uttarakhand paled in significance with the threat that loomed over Uttar Pradesh and Bihar when the Bhote Kosi in Nepal was blocked by a landslide on 2nd August. This led to the evacuation of nearly 3 lakh people from their homes in the downstream states. Several of these evacuees were displaced families who had been washed out of their homes in 2012, only to be again moved just as they had settled down.

No sooner was this threat lifted than the two states along with Jharkhand, stared glumly at the prospect of drought. With 60 per cent of the districts in the state facing 40 to 60 per cent deficit in rainfall, the chief minister of Bihar declared his readiness to declare drought in the state but retracted after fresh showers arrived and flooded several areas.

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Tamil Nadu: Denies drought

While on the one hand Revenue Minister R.B. Udhaya Kumar has said that the state is not facing drought, the story is different with respect to the Sugar industry. N. Vijayan Nair, Director of the Sugarcane breeding institute in Coimbatore, says scanty rainfall and a near drought-like situation in the last few years has lead to a drastic decrease in the crop planting area (from 25,000 to 30,000 acres to 7,000 to 8,000 acres).

The institute conducted a drought survey in the first week of August, in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Findings show rainfall deficit in all cane growing districts, particularly Dharmapuri and Tirunelveli which have shown 30per cent and less than 50 per cent rainfall respectively. Almost 80per cent of 7000 acres in Pugalur has been adversely affected. Partially dry canes are now being harvested resulting in low recovery and poor production. (The Hindu Business line, August 17th, 2014).

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Andhra Pradesh and Telangana: Severe rainfall deficiency

According to the MET dept, Telangana has recorded less than 54 per cent rain, coastal Andhra Pradesh, less than 37 per cent and Rayalaseema, less than 26 per cent, with the situation in Rayalaseema worsening in the last few months. The Indian Ocean Dipole trend is unfavourable for rainfall here. There could be excess rainfall by the end of August if the El Nino and Indian Ocean Dipole neutralise by August 15,” said K. Seetharam, an IMD scientist.

Irrigation under Krishna-based projects is better than Godavari based projects, except the Godavari delta. The Sriram Sagar project has still not received inflows, causing serious concerns in Adilabad, Nizamabad, Karimnagar and Warangal districts. Nizam Sagar Dam and Singur Dam also have not received any water. Singur caters to the drinking water needs of Hyderabad. (Deccan Chronicle, August 14th, 2014)

The CM Chandrababu Naidu has urged ICRISAT to collaborate with the government in making the state drought-free. He has asked the Institute to adopt latest innovative technologies to transform rain-fed as well as irrigated agriculture. He has also asked them to suggest appropriate cropping systems for better better livelihood opportunities and work out a plan on water management and food security. (The Hindu, August 13th, 2014)

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Karnataka: Sowing delayed due to rainfall deficit 

The monsoon crops in Karnataka have not been sown on time due to lack of rainfall at the appropriate time. Although drought-hit farmers are eligible for monetary assistance, the government response has not been satisfactory. A farmer is a beneficiary only if he faces 50% loss in produce. Assistance comes in various forms: monetary, input subsidy and crops for alternate cropping (crops they may or may not be familiar with).

"All payments are made by cheque, not cash, therefore often the delay is caused for printing and have them distributed often entails a bit of work. Early this year too, farmers suffered huge crop losses due to unseasonal hailstorm. The Karnataka government set aside 243 crore rupees. But then the elections came in the way so more the delay," said Krishnabyre Gowda, Karnataka's Agriculture Minister. (NDTV, August 16th, 2014)

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Assam: Tea crop hit due to irregular rains 

Erratic rainfall has created a worrisome situation for the tea industry in Assam and some of the other tea producing states in the Northeast region. Scanty rainfall in March-April could not meet the crop requirement and caused an estimated 25-30% loss of crops in Assam in April and May. (, 11th August 2014)

Assam produced 618 million kg tea in 2013, over half of the country's total production of 1,200 million kg. A fall of 10% in production is predicted this year due to erratic rainfall and rising temperature. (Reuters, April 29th 2014)

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Nation's overall economy will be affected 

The drop in food production will be seen all across as most of the crop is being sown late. “There will be a definite loss in output of kharif crop and with El Nino expected to become active in October, the rabi crop may also be impacted,” says food and trade policy analyst Devinder Sharma. While agriculture accounts for only over 13 per cent of India's economy, more than half the country's population depends on farms directly or indirectly. This is why a reduced output will impact the buying capacity of people and hence also affect the overall economy.