Vagaries of nature
Ahead of the first monsoon forecast by the India Meteorological Department on Wednesday, farmers across the country wait in hope. Recent bouts of unseasonal rainfall have wreaked havoc on the winter crop. Agriculture experts have said that 180 lakh hectare of farm land was damaged across 14 states. The agricultural ministry, though, refuted this claim and pegged the figure at 80 lakh. In addition to unseasonal rainfall, meteorologists have raised fears about the possible arrival of the El Nino weather phenomenon. According to weather experts, one of the outcomes of El Nino is a sub-par monsoon in India.
To put these facts into context, India gets 70 per cent of its annual rainfall in the monsoon period, which irrigates crops grown on half of India’s farmlands. Although private meteorologists have predicted a normal monsoon season, policy-makers and farmers will look to Wednesday’s forecasts for greater assurance. Last year, the monsoon period showed 11.9 per cent reduction in rainfall. Drought-like conditions were seen in several states like Punjab, Haryana, Telangana and parts of Maharashtra, among others. These facts continue to tell us how the vagaries of nature continue to wreak havoc on India’s farmers. Starvation deaths maybe a thing of the past, but the plight of the average farmer, even after nearly 70 years of independence, remains pitiful. It is a matter of regret that a holistic approach to alleviate the farmer’s suffering has not been adopted on a sustained basis.
Although the share of agriculture has come down to 15-16 per cent of India’s Gross Domestic Product, nearly 60 per cent of the population continue to depend on agriculture. The vast number of Indians still dependent on agriculture adds further pressure on land, which has become increasingly scarce. Although the Centre has asked insurance companies to expeditiously settle the farmer’s claim, the reality is that no definitive crop insurance exists in this country. Sustainable and long-term measures to insure farmers are urgently required. Until then, all the farmer can do is pray to the rain gods and hope that the forecasts for this year’s monsoons are positive.