The arrival of monsoon along India’s southern shores, with a meteorological forecast for rainfall that would almost match the normal average, has brought cheers to the farming community, more so with fears of the impact of El Nino receding. The India Meteorological Department (IMD) is now less apprehensive about the negative impact of a late-onset El Nino phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean, since it expects a favourable swing in Indian Ocean sea surface temperatures to act as a counter. El Nino is expected to occur in AugustSeptember, but it is unlikely to have any major impact on the monsoon, and the weatherman expects a positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), which has a strong influence on rainfall in the country.
A strong El Nino phenomenon causes sea temperatures to rise significantly, and has adverse effects on marine and aquatic life, agriculture and the quality of water supplies. El Nino is a phenomenon associated with warming of Pacific waters. A positive IOD means cooling of Indian Ocean waters, and this also has a positive effect on Indian monsoon. “A weak El Nino and a positive IOD is a good sign. They offset (effects of) each other,” say weather experts. The Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), also known as the Indian Nino, is an irregular oscillation of seasurface temperatures in which the western Indian Ocean becomes alternately warmer and then colder than the eastern part.
The met department prediction is good for the farming community and the overall economy as 55 per cent of Indian agriculture is dependent on rainfall. The prediction is all the more welcome as it has come against the backdrop of reports of incidents of farmer suicides due to crop loss and indebtedness in the absence of adequate rains on which the Indian agricultural community heavily depends. This year’s summer monsoon rainfall will be studied closely for more than one reason. The IMD is using an improved dynamic forecasting model that relies on high-grade computing after several years of off-the-mark predictions, and its accuracy will be tested. In the area of agricultural productivity, a second consecutive year of normal rainfall will improve the prospects of higher output from the 60% of farmland that is without irrigation facility.
Rainfall may be somewhat deficient in the northeast and parts of south India. Whenever there is a normal rainfall, central India and western coast get good rainfall. However, the northeast, Rayalseema region of Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu may receive less rainfall. It may be recalled that 2016 witnessed normal rainfall across the country, barring deficient precipitation in states like Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and the northeastern states. Indications are that Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Goa and parts of Tamil Nadu may get less than average rainfall this year, while Kerala, Karnataka and the Western Ghats region could get more than the normal. Preparing for rainfall variations between years and among geographic regions should be a policy goal, but this has not received the needed attention, point out agriculturists. The long-term neglect is reflected in the lack of irrigation facility for more than half of all productive land. A good year is a time to prepare for the future, and if 2017 concludes with a bountiful monsoon and harvest as expected, the Centre and the States should focus on creating the infrastructure that will build resilience against droughts, they say. State governments need to prepare cities and towns for the monsoon on a continuous basis.
Clearing of urban waterways and creation of new reservoirs are absolute necessities, since flooding has assumed crippling proportions on the one hand, while municipal supply of drinking water is unable to meet new demand from expansion of housing. Unchecked pollution is making a lot of naturally harvested water unproductive, with poor management of solid waste in cities turning lakes into cesspools. A good monsoon is described by economists as a four-month-long swing factor for the national economy, more so because it generates millions of direct farm jobs. India saw drought years in 2014 and 2015 when the country witnessed deficient rainfall. Despite the IMD’s forecast of ‘above normal’ rains in 2016, India received 3% less than the average. Vast parts of states like Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala are already reeling under severe drought due to deficient pre-monsoon rains this year. With the massive shortfall in irrigation facilities, good showers are necessary this year to trap enough soil moisture for a healthy kharif crop.
The ‘normal’ monsoon forecast of the India Meteorological Department brings the promise of a year of growth and good health for India’s economy and ecology. The prospect that 2017 will be a good year boosts the prospects of enhanced agricultural output, healthy reservoir levels, more hydropower and reduced conflicts over water. It will also test the efficacy of the expensive water management initiatives launched during 2014 and 2015 by the Centre and the state governments to harness rainfall and build resilience for future drought cycles. As agriculture scientist MS Swaminathan pointed out during the drought a couple of years ago, the focus has to be on plant protection, water harvesting and access to post-harvest technologies.