‘Overall monsoon forecast not useful to farmers’

Farmers need short-term rainfall forecasts and agricultural extension services to tide over difficult weather conditions

By Gopal Naik
Published: Sunday 28 June 2015

Farmers need short-term rainfall forecasts and agricultural extension services to tide over difficult weather conditions

An Automatic Weather Station (AWS) (Photo courtesy: imdpune.gov.in)

Monsoon forecasts by the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) are broad aggregate assessments of weather and are not particularly useful for the farmer. When the monsoon is “normal” according to IMD, it is a prediction for the whole season and does not provide information on the distribution over space and time. This information is essential for the farmer to determine what to plant and when to plant.

Last year, the rainfall was closer to normal in many places for the whole season, but it came late. These late rains covered up the deficit but did not help the farmer. The farmer still incurred losses, but this was not indicated by the forecast.

Cropping patterns in an area are predetermined and it is unlikely that long-term forecast influences the farmer’s decisions. The distribution pattern of rain, which is more relevant to farmers, is difficult to predict. Instead of prediction of rainfall over a season, the farmer can benefit more from “Nowcast” which tells him whether it is going to rain in a day or two. For example, in a cotton growing area, information on delay of rainfall by a week or so can help the farmer take a decision to shift to crops like jowar or bajra which do not require so much water.

The problem is that we have lost the agricultural extension system in the country. It is important to revive this system through agricultural universities. Situation- and location-based needs of the farmer can be addressed through these extension systems. The extension officers can advise farmers about what crops to plant, what technology to use, how to conserve moisture in the soil and what to do during difficult crop production conditions. The knowledge created in the universities needs to be transferred to the farmer. This would take care of the impact of climate variability on agriculture to a large extent.
(As told to Vibha Varshney)

Gopal Naik is professor of Economics and Social Sciences at Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore

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