Monsoon 2023: Two weather phenomena to decide fate of agriculture in Indo-Gangetic belt

Agriculture in dry regions to suffer if rainfall deficit continues; Indian Ocean Dipole and El Nino huge factors

By Pulaha Roy
Published: Saturday 22 July 2023
The sowing area for paddy in 2023 has already shrunk by eight per cent compared to last year. Photo for representation: CSE

The current monsoon season, according to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), has been normal for the period June 1 to July 21, 2023. But the rainfall distribution has been highly skewed, with over 41 per cent of the districts reporting deficient to large deficient rainfall. 

While it remains to be seen how the monsoon pans out climatologically, a rainfall deficit in the Indo-Gangetic belt can be a death knell for the Indian farmers. 

Rice, the most important of all the Kharif crops, is produced in Punjab and along the Indo Gangetic plain and the Kaveri and Godavri belts. The sowing area for paddy in 2023 has already shrunk by eight per cent compared to last year, according to Crop Weather Watch Group. 

Worryingly, the Indo-Gangetic belt will continue to remain dry, IMD has forecast. The dry spell will hamper the sowing activity in the region, said Debashish Jena, agrometeorologist at IMD Cuttack. 

Down To Earth (DTE) contacted farmers from Shrawasti district, Uttar Pradesh to check the sowing status of paddy in these regions.

Initial sowing started as early as May, said farmer Krishna Bahadur Gupta. But scanty rainfall in the region led to heavy losses, with no sprouts or shoots for transplantation. The transplantation method involves re-rooting a plant that has just started sprouting from a nursery into a bigger field.

So, is it too early to forecast a shortage in production? “IMD has been issuing advisory alerts for farmers to switch to short-duration varieties for the season,” Jena told DTE. Short duration paddy versions are types of seeds which generally mature by 125 days. 

Rice production will only come under stress depending on how well the monsoon fares in August and September, said Jena. “The reproduction stage is the most important phase in the cycle,” he said.

While Jena did admit that El Nino — the warming phase of the El Nino-Southern Oscillation weather phenomenon — will be a factor, according to him, the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) should neutralise the extreme effects. 

Like El Nino, which unfolds in the tropical waters of the Eastern Pacific, IOD is the difference in sea surface temperature stretching from the Arabian Sea to the eastern region of the Indian Ocean along the southern Indonesian coast.

A positive IOD usually manifests itself in above average rainfall across the Indian Subcontinent

However, according to the Bureau of Meteorology, Australia, IOD is currently neutral. “All models suggest a positive IOD is likely to develop in late winter or early spring,” it said. 

While IOD still remains some way off from its formation, according to Jena, even if production is hampered in West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and other states along the Gangetic plain, normal to above normal rainfall as forecasted by IMD in the next one week in the southern peninsula should help to offset the situation. 

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