Light at the end of the tunnel?
There is probably light at the end of the tunnel for rural India. On Monday, the government said that after two years of deficient rainfall, the monsoon this year is expected to be normal and directed states to chalk out plans to boost crop acreage and production in Kharif season starting June. "El Nino condition is declining,” Agriculture Secretary Shobhana K Patnaik said addressing a national conference to launch Kharif campaign for 2016-17. “It is expected that La Nina condition will take over, and will perhaps favour a good monsoon this year.” Despite the government’s claims, it would be prudent to wait for the Indian Meteorological Department’s prediction for the upcoming monsoon later this month. “India's food grain production declined to 252.02 million tonnes in 2014-15 crop year (July-June) from the record 265.04 million tonnes in the previous year, due to poor monsoon,” according to Press Trust of India. “The output is estimated to rise slightly to 253.16 in the ongoing 2015-16 crop year due to 14 percent fewer rains.” As this column has reiterated time and again, two consecutive bad monsoons have led to serious farm distress and water scarcity in the country. The July-September monsoon accounts for about 80 percent of India’s total rainfall and affects both summer and winter sowing. There are more than three months left before India heads into the monsoon season. Irrespective of what the Centre may suggest, governments must prepare for the worst. Another year of deficient monsoon with no equivalent relief in oil prices will worsen the economic distress that has already afflicted rural India. Reports also indicate that India could in the near future become a net importer of essential commodities for the first time in many years. A growing population, consecutive drought years, falling commodity prices, and a lack of long-term investment in agriculture could seriously undermine India’s self-sufficiency when it comes to food items. Such shortfalls in farm output have opened the floodgates for foreign suppliers. According to a recent Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) report, the damage done to the wheat output may result in a shortfall in production, which could lead to a spike in the food inflation. It was only recently that the spiralling price rise was relatively tamed after a prolonged gap. Unseasonal rains accompanied by hailstorms are creating havoc for Indian farmers continuously even as the country faces a shortfall in wheat production by around 13 million tonnes from the initial estimates of 93.8 million tonnes, as per the report. Noted observers have said that if India wants to see a GDP growth rate of 7.5 percent, the agriculture sector must grow above 3 percent. The government claims to be on top of the current agrarian crisis and doing everything in its power to avert another crisis. One can only wait and watch how the Centre, allied with the State governments, will address these concerns.