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Grim Tidings

The Indian farmer like the Olive Ridley turtle is an endangered species. The omens for the average Indian farmer grow from bad to worse as each day passes. In its first official monsoon outlook for the year, the India Meteorological Department (IMD), on Wednesday said the Southwest monsoon received by India this year could be deficient. Meanwhile, what has set alarm bells ringing is the prediction that El-Nino conditions are likely to persist during the south-west monsoon. The long term forecast by the IMD is unlikely to bring much cheer or have much effect on the Indian farming community though. Cropping patterns in India are predetermined in advance and it is unlikely that the long-term forecast by IMD will influence the average Indian farmer’s cropping decisions.

Ironically, the distribution pattern of rain, which is more relevant to farmers, is difficult to predict. Instead of prediction of rainfall over a season, the farmers could have possibly benefited more from a“Nowcast” which tells them whether it is going to rain in a day or two. For example, in a cotton growing area, information on delay of rainfall by a week or so can help the farmer take a decision to shift to crops like jowar or bajra which do not require much water. However the reality is that such forecasting technologies are a long way away from being implemented in India and they certainly won’t be implemented this year. 

Making matters worse for farmers, a slowing economy has led to a drying up of job opportunities for rural migrant workers, especially in sectors like construction and manufacturing. Given that the South-West monsoons are not likely to bring any respite for farmers and farmers are not likely to find work outside the villages, the unfolding months will be undeniably tense and distressing for them. 

The news of a possibly weak monsoon comes close on the heels of unseasonal rains inflicting massive damage on crops across the country. Recent rains and hailstorm in different parts of the country had damaged Rabi crops in about 181 lakh hectares of land across 13 states, with Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan facing the brunt of the damage. Ironically despite this alarming scenario facing Indian agriculture, television screens across the country have been busy broadcasting images of everything from Narendra Modi’s trip abroad to the new outfits of Indian Premier League(IPL) teams in the past few weeks. What was perhaps glaringly missing from them was the sight of a common Indian farmer standing in his field and mourning the loss of an entire crop he had painstakingly nurtured over many months. Despite the large extent of crop damage and the possible ripple effects which could cause food price inflation across India in the near future, the plight of Indian farmers has not received much attention from the influential urban media. Meanwhile, politicians across the country focus their energies on debating the extent of crop damage while farmers continue to commit suicides in droves. Given this alarming scenario is there something that can be done for the average Indian farmer? Experts say that there is a lot that can still be done provided the political class gets its act together and takes some proactive measures. “Forewarned is forearmed,” says agriculture scientist M S Swaminathan. “We should start preparing contingency plans to suit different rainfall probabilities such as seed banks, rain water harvesting and efficient use procedures. Swaminathan adds that agricultural universities, ICAR institutions and agriculture departments must jointly prepare a deficient monsoon management strategy with farm families. He also says that special attention must be paid to feeding and saving farm animals. 

According to a prominent voice of the farming community, Anil Malik, farmers are planning to sow rice, wheat, jowar and bajra this monsoon. The sowing of sugarcane has already started in some places.Malik also says that in case of a “below normal” rainfall this year, irrigation tanks and canals must be repaired on an emergency basis so that farmers do not suffer due to lack of water. “Also, power supply should be made extensive. Normally, farmers get around six to seven hours of power daily. In case of poor rainfall, power should be made available for at least 12 to 14 hours so that farmers can work in the fields,” he adds. Not all is all lost for the Indian farmer but it could be if preventive measures are not taken quickly.


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