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BW Businessworld

The Monsoon Mania

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 “Times of India call ten minutes ago. Before that Cabinet office in Delhi, PM himself wants to know, everyone is most…anxious”
This is how British writer Alexander Frater quotes an Indian meteorological department official in his travelogue “Chasing the Monsoon”, as he meets him hours before the advent of monsoon rains in the late 1980s’.
Twenty five years after Frater’s book got published; the frenzy and anxiety generated by a potential delay or deficient monsoon in India remains the same. If a failed monsoon could have meant riots and lost elections in the 1980s, it still means crop failures, and possible farmer suicides and electoral debacles. 
Over forty per cent of the agricultural area that gets harvested continues to depend on rains, without any irrigation support. This grim fact looms large over all the technological advancements, daily analysis, warnings, contingency announcements and ministerial proclamations that have become an annual drill every May-June period.
Last week, Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh informed that the latest monsoon predictions by the meteorological department point to a 12 per cent deficient rainfall during this season. Even before that his ministry put in place a Crisis Management Plan (CMP) for drought 2015. All chief ministers have been asked to expedite preparation of state level ‘Management Plan on Drought’ at the state level.
The monsoon situation looks similar to the last year (2014-15), when bad monsoons affected the Kharif crops. Last year’s overall production of food grains also suffered because of unseasonal rains and hailstorm that affected the Rabi crops.
As per 3rd Advance Estimates for 2014-15, total food grains production in the country should be 251.12 million tonnes, lower by 13.92 million tonnes as compared to the - monsoon favoured - record food grains production of 265.04 million tonnes in 2013-14. Total production of rice is estimated at 102.54 million tonnes which is lower by 4.11 million tonnes than the last year’s record production of 106.65 million tonnes. Production of wheat estimated at 90.78 million tonnes is lower by 5.07 million tonnes than the record production of 95.85 million tonnes achieved during 2013-14.  
Similarly, the total production of coarse cereals is estimated at 40.42 million tonnes, also lower by 2.87 million tonnes than the previous year.
As a result of setback in kharif as well as rabi seasons, the production of most of the crops in the country declined during 2014-15, the reason why the government continues to be worried.  
While the figures are proof of the genuine political and social concerns over delayed or deficient monsoons, agriculture production statistics also tells us that Indian farmers might be in the process of learning how to minimise its impact on overall agricultural output. That is because, even when compared to a year of record production, 2014-15, which was rain deficient and saw unfriendly unseasonal rain and hail storm, the decline in agricultural production was only 5.3 per cent.  
The government preparations did help last year, but there was also an element of luck here. Some of the regions where there was less rain fall were well irrigated areas, thereby minimising the impact.  While there is no doubt about the need to increase the reach of irrigation, public investment in agricultural research, education, extension, soil testing, warehousing and cold-storage etc. also helps minimise adverse impacts. 
Let us not forget that the latest National Sample Survey Organisation data indicates that about 59 per cent of farmers do not get much technical assistance and know-how from government-funded farm research institutes or extension services. They rely on progressive farmers, media, and private commercial agents such as dealers of farm inputs like seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides for technical information. 
Effective measures to tackle adverse climatic conditions should not be a once-in-a-year exercise. It should be a continuous, round the year exercise. Will the new Kisan TV, along with mobile applications and technology tools help?