The erratic and deficient monsoon has resulted in late sowing of Kharif crops throughout the country. Some data even show that there is a reduction in the sowing percentage as well that indicates that there could be a possible reduction in the food grain production which will result in inflated price for these particular commodities and an overall lesser agri-growth. Let’s have a closer look at the situation to estimate a better outcome of the scenario.
An initial burst in June saw the monsoons reach western Uttar Pradesh by 18 June, nearly 10 days ahead of schedule. A significant lull followed. They covered the entire country only on 13 July, a week later than normal. As of 28 July, India was running a marginal 2% deficit in monsoon rainfall over its long-period average (LPA) from 1961 to 2010, according to the India Meteorological Department. However, there were regional disparities. The southern peninsula had a 22% surplus and central India 2%. But north-west India had a 7% deficit, and east and north-east India an 18% deficit.
In spite of a surge in the last week of July, monsoon rains were deficient in 13 states till 28 July, including in important agricultural states such as Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. Beyond the rains, reservoir levels are crucial for Kharif crops, especially for irrigated crops like paddy. Data from the Central Water Commission shows that, at an all-India level, water levels in reservoirs with irrigation linkages exceed the 10-year average by 21%. But these high levels are concentrated in the southern and western regions. In need of rains, Reservoirs in the northern, eastern and central regions show large deficits.
SOWING OF KHARIF CROPS
Even though sowing of four major Kharif crops has been slow relative to last year, a surge in monsoons in the last week of July had resulted in sowing rates picking up. As of 30 July, sowing levels in 2021 were above ‘normal’—average of the last five years—for two of the four crops. These are rice and oilseeds, by 2.3% and 3.3%, respectively. However, sowing of pulses and coarse cereals is below normal by 2.5% and 5.4%, respectively. Last year, on average, 83% sowing for the Kharif season was completed by 30 July.
Even as a few regions in the country are afflicted by devastating floods, monsoons have been erratic and deficient in many parts. In that pandemic year, a bountiful monsoon and a bumper crop alleviated the economic distress in rural areas. How the monsoon’s progress will have a bearing on food prices, the rural economy, and aggregate demand this year. For 2021-22, how the monsoon progresses will impact the last 20% of the Kharif sowing season, and consequently production levels. In the top 15 states by overall food grain production, sowing in 2021 has trailed historical averages for the major Kharif crops. Oilseeds have overcome a high base and errant rains the best. Amid rising prices, sowing is higher in nine of the 15 states, including three of the four states that lead in acreage under the crop: Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan. In three states – Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Odisha – sowing is below normal in all 4 major Kharif crops. Another five states are running a deficit in three of the four crops: Punjab, Rajasthan, Bihar, Telangana and Gujarat. Of the major agri-producing states running the largest deficit in rainfall, Madhya Pradesh is seeing sowing below normal in pulses and oilseeds, which are mostly rainfed. Haryana and Maharashtra, which have received excess rainfall, fare well with respect to Kharif sowing.
EFFECT ON PRICES
The slower pace of sowing relative to last year also has implications for consumers. Lower food grain production could increase food prices, which have already spiked over the past few months. A bumper Kharif crop in 2020 meant that wholesale prices fell steadily between April 2020 and February 2021. However, since March 2021, wholesale prices of food grains have risen sharply due to supply bottlenecks during the second wave of the covid-19 pandemic and the hiked petrol diesel prices.
According to the latest estimates from the ministry of agriculture, total food grain production in 2020-21 was at 305.4 million tonnes. This is an increase of about 10% over the average of the previous five years (2015-16 to 2019-20) and the highest ever in a year. At current rates of sowing in this Kharif season, it is unlikely that farm production in 2021-22 will match the heights of the previous year.
Though agriculture accounts for only about 16% of India’s economic output, 60% of India’s workers find employment in farming. Their numbers rose after the pandemic-induced lockdown in 2020, as workers returned from cities to rural areas. The slump in the industrial production and with the market reviving at a very slow rate, it is believed that the people that went back to their villages to practice agriculture will have a hard time. The bountiful monsoon in 2020 provided some relief as agricultural production boomed. 2021 may turn out to be very different. The government is aware with the fact and has already started taking steps to compensate the farmers for their losses. A serious effort needs to be put forward in order to reduce the dependence of the farmers on rainfall by promoting water conservation and storage techniques like rainwater harvesting, using efficient irrigation applications. This needs immediate attention as rainfall pattern will surely be erratic and rainfall will be disturbed in the coming future.