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India's puny monsoon sparks fears of drought

Published Aug 03, 2012 03:31am


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Indian women labourers return after a day's work at a paddy field on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar. — AP Photo
Indian women labourers return after a day's work at a paddy field on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar. — AP Photo

KHERIKHUMMAR: India's monsoon rains that lash the country each summer arrived late and have been feeble this year, leading to hardship for hundreds of millions of farmers like 61-year-old Rameshwar Dayal.

The much-romanticised annual downpour that normally sweeps in at the start of June in the far south of the country is a lifeline for him and about two thirds of the 1.2-billion population who depend on agriculture for their incomes.

But the rains have been so poor that some farmers have decided not to sow crops, spelling more bad news for a slowing economy buffeted by its worst power crisis this week following massive blackouts.

“My fields are completely dry. There have been no rains and I have no artificial irrigation facility to be able to grow food grains,” Dayal told AFP from his village, Kherikhummar, in the northern state of Haryana.

Haryana, along with neighbouring Punjab state, is known as the “bread basket” of India, the source of over 60 per cent of food grains such as wheat, maize, rice and pulses that are grown annually.

It has been one of the worst affected this year with 65 per cent less rain than the long-term average, according to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) in New Delhi.

Nation-wide, the monsoon has been more than 20 per cent below its average, sparking fears of drought among farmers who remember vividly the failure of 2009, when India suffered its worst drought in nearly four decades.

Another deficient year would cause more harm to India's slowing economy, which grew at its slowest pace in nine years in the first quarter of the year.

Drought would also further spur rising global food prices. India is the world's biggest producer of pulses and second-biggest producer of rice, sugar and tea.

The rain gods have cheated us

For Dayal, who has a small holding that would normally produce corn, millet, sesame and wheat in the summer, the rains have been so poor that he has decided against even sowing his crop this year.

Others nearby have watched their efforts wilt in the summer heat. Over 30 per cent of total arable land in the area has no direct access to irrigation, according to data collected by CCS Haryana Agricultural University in 2010.

In India as a whole, as much as two thirds of farmland is estimated to be purely rain-fed.

“What is the point of sowing the seeds when you know that there will be no water to irrigate the crops at several stages,” said Dayal, as he smoked a pipe outside his concrete cottage that stands near his parched ancestral lands.

“I cannot waste my seeds and my money,” he added.

Ahead of the monsoon, farmers had been through their usual routine. The land had been ploughed and tractors repaired.

“All our efforts were a waste of energy. The rain gods have cheated us,”said Saroj Singh, a farmer and mother of two.

“There is hardly any work in the fields and there will be no income this season.”

Singh says her husband and her father-in-law are both alcoholics and the family of six depend solely on the income from their eight acres of farmland which brings in about 200,000 rupees every year.

Outside of Haryana and Punjab, western areas such as Maharashtra and Gujarat and parts of southern states have been affected. A total of 306 of India's 620 districts have received less rain than the long-term average.

The great gamble with nature

While the government is yet to declare a drought, it has already offered 19 billion rupees in cash and subsidies to tens of millions of farmers.

It has also rolled out contingency plans to ensure seeds are available to farmers and adequate fodder is supplied for livestock, as well as prioritising drinking water from low-level reservoirs.

Overall this year, there has been a reduction of around eight million hectares in the crop area sown compared to last year when the rains were normal.

“Every year India plays the great gamble with nature. It seems this year Indians will be losing the gamble. Bad rainfall means tremendous losses,” said Ram Kumar, a professor at the CCS Haryana Agricultural University.

Kumar, who works closely with the farmers in the region, said it was almost impossible for farmers to recover from the losses they incur in a bad season.

“They use their savings to meet the household expenses and many even sell their land out of desperation if they do not get any non-farm jobs,” he explained.

Some independent agriculture economists fear a repeat of the drought in 2009 that sent food prices rocketing and caused huge hardship for the country's poor and middle-income groups.

“We will have a considerable adverse impact on agricultural output. This will significantly increase supply-side constraints, negatively affect growth and inflation,” said D Chaudhari, a professor at the Anand Agricultural University in western state of Gujarat.

Chaudhari said this year's monsoon was a picture of contrasts. Excess rainfall in the north-east triggered destructive floods that displaced six million people, while much of the rest of the country has sizzled without regular rains.


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Comments (11) Closed

Tara Aug 04, 2012 01:59pm
India has in stock more food than what it requires. So Palistan press should not worry about India. It should worry about Pakistan which depends upon U.S on its survival.
raika45 Aug 03, 2012 10:59am
India's previous harvest was a real bumper .Thousands of tons of wheat and other crops rotted in the open areas when no space was available in covered stores.India's problem is lack of proper management and infrastructure like good roads.One drought like this will not create food shortage.India has more than enough.The problem is how food will reach the needy.This bottleneck will result in price increase.
ROHIT PANDEY Aug 04, 2012 11:59am
Bad news from India...staple for Pakistani press. India announced that it is to send a space probe to Mars,next year!
Rizwan Aug 12, 2012 07:10pm
Ah yes, because Indian news is fair in its coverage of Pakistan. You'd think the whole of Pakistan was the Tribal Areas by the way your country reports stories from Pakistan.
Rizwan Aug 12, 2012 07:08pm
I feel terrible for the poor communities in India that have no recourse. The rich nationalists in Mumbai - I couldn't care less about them. But the poor farmer in inner Maharashtra has my sympathy.
Cyrus Howell Aug 04, 2012 06:59pm
Pakistan has announced it is going to shoot down your space probe. The Force be with you.
rashid zaidi Aug 04, 2012 07:15pm
The paper is just reporting what's on the wire, why should it be staple for Pakistan press. It is just a reality, which Pakistan will perhaps face also, as monsoon rains effect the whole region. Be fair, Rohit
Anti Hunger Aug 05, 2012 05:24am
Really sorry about this development ... My thoughts are with tens of millions of our impoverished farmers and the abjectly poor ... let us hope rains come soon and give a helping hand ...
Lucknow Nabob Aug 05, 2012 05:26am
... Let us hope are scientists are able to fetch food from Mars for our millions of poor ...
silence Aug 05, 2012 05:33am
Why are YOU reading pakistani press or newspaper then?
OAMPERKASH Aug 16, 2012 08:48am