Monsoon cheer

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In our predominantly agrarian economy and with the farm sector still majorly dependent on the weather gods, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) forecast of the monsoon forms the basis of glee or gloom, for a lot rides on it. So, when on Monday the IMD predicted a normal monsoon — 97 per cent of the long period (50 years) average of 89 cm — it rained cheer on the farmers, even as the prospect of a good crop promises a ripple effect on the related beneficiaries down the line. After all, the monsoon showers account for 70 per cent of the country’s rainfall and affect major crops such as wheat, rice, sugarcane and oilseeds. In turn, the more than 50 per cent of our population engaged in agriculture and related activities, very much drive consumer behaviour and food inflation. However, given the variance in the forecast and the actual rainfall in the past years, there is need for more precise indications on how the downpour would be distributed geographically and when exactly it would reach each farm so that the cultivators may plan their sowing and furrowing accordingly. Given our large area and the unpredictable El Nino and La Nina, it is a tall order. But in a watershed moment, the Ministry of Earth Sciences, from this year, is experimenting with an improved forecast system: the IMD is likely to issue fortnightly forecasts of the monsoon’s arrival in states, after it makes a fall over Kerala. A 15-day lead will definitely benefit the farmers who have till now, been contending with an erratic five-day heads-up as the rains travel northwards from Kerala.Along with this, what is of utmost importance is adopting better rain-harvesting and water conservation techniques. With the dark clouds of climate change and groundwater depletion ominously looming large over the world, every drop from the heavens is manna. It has to be used judiciously. A good start would be to ponder on this water-guzzling figure from last year’s Economic Survey: Although water is one of India’s most scarce natural resources, India uses two to four times more water to produce a unit of major food crop than does China and Brazil.

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