New Delhi, July 4 -- The months of July and August - crucial for summer crops - are expected to deliver only about two-thirds of the predicted rainfall, but that should still be enough to avoid a drought, farm minister Sharad Pawar said on Tuesday.
A 31% below-normal rainfall in June has hit planting of some millets, such as maize, bajra (pearl millet) and jowar (sorghum), which traditionally form the food basket of the poor and are grown by millions of small farmers in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat, Pawar told reporters. Sowing of rice, the main staple, pulses, oilseeds and sugar has been near-normal.
The minister said the Centre was fully prepared to meet "any rainfall situation" and all states were ready with the farm ministry's contingency plan, which entails switching to less waterintensive crops, among other rain-deficit farming practices.
"According to inputs from the Met department, July and August will be good from the monsoon angle and expected to give 70% of the predicted 96% rainfall for the season," Pawar said.
This still works out to a shortfall of 33% for the two months, since the monsoon is considered normal if rainfall is between 96% and 104% of 89 cm, the 50-year average. A 40% deficiency in 2009 had triggered India's worst drought in three decades.
A below-average rainfall does not necessarily result in widespread drought if the rains are evenly spread, which is not the case so far. The June-September monsoon is critical as two-thirds of Indians, or 800 million people, depend on farm income and 60% of the country's cultivable land does not have assured irrigation.
A good monsoon raises rural incomes, which helps the economy by fuelling demand for manufactured items and gold.
India has witnessed extreme weather in the first six months of the year, with the coldest March in the north since 1999 and the warmest June in four years.
A United Nations report earlier this year had warned of extreme weather events.
"All countries would be vulnerable to an expected increase in quick variation in temperatures," said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) summary for policymakers released earlier this year.
The impact is already visible especially in vegetables and fruits.
Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.