Agrarian India Showing Growing Resilience To Nature's Whims: Report
According to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), the cumulative rainfall across the country till August 23 was 94 per cent of the Long Period Average (LPA), which was below-normal levels
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Planting of the 2017 Kharif crops, mostly rice, maize, millet and sorghum, began with the onset of the Monsoons in June, when the Rain Gods turned whimsical. Rainfall was uneven, being sparse in some pockets of south, central and northern India and torrential in others.
Floods devastated many parts of Gujarat, Bihar, West Bengal, Assam and eastern Uttar Pradesh. According to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), the cumulative rainfall across the country till August 23 was 94 per cent of the Long Period Average (LPA), which was below-normal levels.
Sowing of the Kharif, or summer crop, stretches till September. Farm ministry statistics show that as of August 11, the country’s staple cereals have been sown across 49.78 million hectares, which is three per cent higher than in the Kharif season of 2016. With vast tracts of the Gangetic plains and the Brahmaputra valley under water, how many of those tender shoots survived?
Data of both the Union ministry of home affairs and UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) compiled till 24 August, show that floods and landslides in 2017 have destabilised at least 32.1 million Indians, mostly in the northeastern and northwestern states. Nature’s fury this year wrecked dwellings and destroyed roads, bridges and other infrastructure for communication, destroying trade routes.
In areas most depredated by the floods, access to food has been limited to relief assistance provided by the government. (Please see chart VI: Flood Casualties in 2017)
At this bleak juncture, a Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report shines forth like that light at the end of the tunnel.
The report says in a nutshell:
• Prospects for 2017 main season crops were favourable, despite the floods in the northern areas
• Prices of rice were stable, while those of wheat were decreasing
• Overall food security is satisfactory, not counting households impacted by the floods
The Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED, 2004) has labelled India one of the ten most disaster-prone countries of the world. In terms of overall Global Climate Risk (CRI) index, India has ranked fourth with a CRI score of 15.44, ranking 60 in terms of losses per unit in GDP.
The Global Climate Risk Index, 2017 ranks India second in a fatality-wise score, which is an improvement because India topped the list in 2013. Between 1996 and 2000, India’s gross domestic product (GDP) took a two per cent knock and state and central government revenues dwindled by 12 per cent because of damages caused to life, infrastructure and agricultural produce by natural calamities.
Of India’s geographical area of 329 million hectares, as much as 40 million hectares is flood-prone. In 2014-15, floods ravaged the northeastern states, even as the rest of the country experienced two consecutive dry spells. On an average, floods have damaged 7.2 million hectares of land, including farm lands every year between 1953 and 2011.
When It Rains
As many as 1653 people are estimated to have died in these floods and economic losses in the way of homes, public utilities and crops has been of the order of Rs 3,612 crore. Loss of crops alone have been to the tune of Rs 1,119 in crore. (Please see Graph I: Flood Mortality between 1980-2011).
“Nature is far superior, it balances all and leaves nothing untouched,” muses Hem Pande, a former Secretary in the Union ministry of environment. “We live in a world where 20 per cent people use 80 per cent resources and vice-versa,” he points out, adding, “We humans will do well to make factors work in our favour.”
And When It Shines!
Both floods and droughts clobber agrarian India. According to the findings of the International Journal of Innovative Research in Science, Engineering and Technology, the causes of droughts in India fall into ten categories, of which the first is locatio. The Irrigation Commission has identified 67 such zones. The other conditions include the extent of rainfall, climate change, ocean temperature, change in jet stream and change in landscape.
Other causes of droughts are hydrological, metrological and drought from inappropriate agricultural practices. The tenth form of drought, defined as “agriculture drought”, occurs because of insufficient precipitation and evapo-transpiration, reducing levels in the water reservoir. Rainfall, therefore, is not the only factor determining drought in agrarian India. For the record, India has 91 million hectares of irrigated land. (Chart IV: Defying rainfall shows how foodgrain production has not been stymied by the extent of rainfall in the recent past.
According to the Union ministry of water resources, India’s groundwater level and its development is both unequal and inadequate. The Central Ground Water Board says that the maximum ground water depth was in Maharashtra, where water is only available at 153 metres below ground level, followed by Rajasthan (106 metres) and Telangana (54.78 metres below ground level).
Statistics, not just of the Union ministry of agriculture, but of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations and the United States Department of Agriculture suggest that the farmlands of India have been able to develop a resilience to the vagaries of nature (see chart IV and chart VI: Farm output growing).
Food Price Spikes
Fanatical though nature’s fury may have been in the past, spikes in food prices have seldom been driven by a shortfall in agricultural production. The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry in India (Assocham) published a Knowledge Report on Doubling Farmers’ Income in July 2017 that points out that rainfall and drought have less to do with the price of edibles than the rise in per capita income. Rise in food prices, when they occur, are obviously more driven by demand than supply crunches from the farm fields.
At present, retail prices of rice are mostly stable because of adequate availability within the country. Prices of wheat and wheat flour have plummeted in most markets, because of the bumper wheat crop and high imports in recent months. Former Secretary in the Union ministry of agriculture, Siraj Hussain, exults, “Gone are the days when we suffered huge losses. We are capable enough as far as availability of grains are concerned. Of course, a price rise in a few commodities cannot be ruled out.”
Ashok Dalwai, CEO of the National Rainfed Area Authority of India, sums up a sentiment that is fast gaining ground, when he says, “We have strengthened our ability to ride over natural calamities including floods and drought. We have alternate contingency strategy in place.”
Dalwai explains that “There is a robust mechanism in the form of state disaster response fund at state levels. If states exhaust their resources, there is NDRF for support with additional resources. The real improvement happened in terms of science, we have tolerant varieties and appropriate management practices. Above all we have an early warning system on weather. India is far better prepared today.”
Apparently and statistically (see chart VI), the vast verdant tracts of India’s sown fields promise to yield their harvest – come rain or shine!