Potential help

Agromet advisory still in its infancy in India but set to be implemented on a larger scale

By Vidhu Tyagi
Last Updated: Monday 17 August 2015

BESIDES inducing extreme rainfall and prolonged droughts, changing climate has made traditional wisdom of farmers defunct. Earlier, they would read signs of nature— flowering time of trees to egg laying by birds—to predict weather and decide on sowing and harvesting. But with climate change, farmers find they can no longer rely on their native wisdom.

This prompted the Indian Agricultural Research Institute and India Meteorological Department (IMD) to step in. In 2007 they started Integrated Agromet Advisory. The advisories provide weather information for crop and livestock management to farmers in 127 agro climatic zones of the country and are issued twice a week.

Though the effectiveness of the programme is yet to be established, it is set to get a boost. It is to be a part of the National Initiative on Climate Resilient Agriculture launched by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research in February 2011. The initiative aims to build climate resilience in agriculture through strategic research, technological intervention and capacity building in 100 climatically vulnerable districts of India. The findings from this initiative will form a part of the National Mission on Sustainable Agriculture, under the National Action Plan on Climate Change, which will decide future adaptation strategies. Experts say that before such an expansion takes place it is necessary to ascertain how much the programme has actually benefitted the farmers.

N Chattopadhyay, deputy director general of meteorology at agromet division of IMD reveals that three million farmers in the country have been reached through the advisories. But this is only 10 per cent of the farming community in India. A 2010 National Council for Applied Economic Research report found that 95 per cent of the farmers still rely on village elders for weather forecasting. It added that only nine per cent of the farmers agreed that agromet information helped them reduce cost during stress periods.

Technical loopholes

The concept of agromet advisory has helped stressed out farmers across the world, but what ails the advisories in India is lack of infrastructure and understanding. Agriculture is dependent on local weather conditions but the information generated is at the district level. “The advisories generated are generic as currently there is only one automatic weather station in each district. In the monsoon-driven weather system of India, local agro-meteorological conditions, especially rainfall, vary within a kilometre,” points out K K Singh, head of agromet division of IMD. For better information there has to be a weather station in each mandal which comprises 20 to 30 villages, adds Sudha Rani, scientist at N G Ranga Agricultural University in Andhra Pradesh.


Moreover, after the information is generated at stations, it is further spread through TV, newsletters, cellphones and Internet. But information technology is at a very nascent stage in villages in most states. This results in the advisories not even reaching the villages. K Ravi, associate editor of Tolakari, a community magazine for sustainable agriculture, points out that Andhra Pradesh saw a massive drought in 2011 and farmers in Khammam and Kareemnagar districts did not receive the advisories. “Andhra Pradesh saw 1.9 million hectares of rainfed land being sown with Bt cotton, a water intensive crop. Consequently, the farmers suffered loss of Rs 3,000 crore,” he adds.

Complementary action

Sometimes, even the suggestions are impractical. For example, an advisory issued in August, 2011 to Khammam and Kareemnagar asked the farmers to do supplementary irrigation which is impossible given the drought conditions. “This is complete failure of the advisory system,” adds Ravi.

Singh says the concept is not bad but what is needed is to scale up the advisories by building up infrastructure. But experts say adding a human face can do wonders. There needs to be a two-way communication between the scientist and the farmer. At present, the advisory is prepared very subjectively. “First, the farmers may not get the information and even if they do, they may not have understanding to adapt to it. Instead, they prefer going to a local pesticide shop and seek help on what to do,” Ravi notes. Choosing someone from their community and making him spread the word can change things, he adds.

Government plans to upscale weather forecasting for farmers, but will it benefit them?

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  • Agromet Advisory Let me give

    Agromet Advisory

    Let me give my experience in the agromet advisory. While I was in Mozambique as FAO Expert on Early Warning project, I started issuing an Agromet Bulletin at every 10-day [decade] interval then monthly and at the end seasonal bulletin. This bulletin includes rainfall amounts received in the current decade and cumulative rainfall from the starting of the season. Then, when crop seeding/planting starts the moisture balance is given along with the rainfall ÔÇô soil moisture balance is estimated using the soil type, precipitation, crop/cropping pattern. The analysis was carried out using 256 KB computer [Olivetti purchased at US$ 3000]. The necessary programmes for the analysis were prepared in Fortran IV language.

    The bulletin includes all the data along with the presentation on crop condition and finally yield estimation and thus food aid requirement province-wise [it is like a state in India]. When I started this bulletin, Minister for Agriculture suggested that these bulletins will be distributed from the MinisterÔÇÖs office to all concerned officials and ministers including Prime Minister and President. Later, Prime Minister suggested to the Minister of Agriculture to send the bulletins to his office and in turn his office will circulate to all concerned. The bulletins are also sent regularly to print and electronic media.

    At the end, the crop production and food aid requirement was presented at a meet organized by Prime MinisterÔÇÖs office which was attended by UN agencies and Ambassadors as well government agencies. UNDP Resident Representative asked me to visit all the provinces and validate the assessment and present final report ÔÇô for this he put a twin engine get aircraft at my disposal as there was no way I can go by road, as they were mined. I executed this exercise and submitted the final report to the government. PresidentÔÇÖs office phoned to the minister of Agriculture saying that President wants the summary report to brief the press in half-an-hour time. Minister gave me 15-minutes time to write the brief in English and he took 15-minutes to translate the same in to Portuguese and sent it to president. President presented the same to the press. Next day one province agriculture official issued a press statement stating that his province is reeling under severe drought. They asked my clarification [from PresidentÔÇÖs office] and when I told the Minister there is no drought in that province, immediately orders went dismissing him from the job and asking another officer to take charge. Finally FAO published in its bulletin on food aid the same.

    Before undertaking the crop early warning project, I mapped the agro-climate of Mozambique that included the crops, cropping pattern, soil type, etc. I executed the same in Ethiopia where four ministries of agriculture are involved and all of them cooperated with my proposal. Here we went round the country on a truck carrying diesel barrels at the back ÔÇô poor roads, diesel is not available at all places as war is going on to separate Eretria a tiny place that divides the mainland Ethiopia by Nile river ÔÇô like Godavari, Nile river is far below by several meters to the agriculture land. All these are presented in my book ÔÇ£Agroclimatic/ Agrometeorological Techniques: As applicable to Dry-land Agriculture in Developing CountriesÔÇØ in 1993 ÔÇô Book Review appeared in Agric. For. Meteorol., 67: 325-327 (1994). You can find this on Google Books or www.scribd.com.

    In India I donÔÇÖt think any politician or bureaucrat is interested in such things. In India through declaring droughts and floods they get funds for pocketing. I called this as political drought. In India, thus, four types of droughts are in common use, namely meteorological drought, hydrological drought, agricultural drought and political drought. Finally, only political drought plays the major role. Because of this, even when I offered my services at no cost ÔÇô free ÔÇô they turned down saying that they donÔÇÖt need my technical expert but they need funds. -- they don't even invite me to participate in the agromet conferences --. Our researchers in ICAR, CRIDA, NGOs & agriculture universities play games with IPCC pronounced global warming ÔÇô a time pass research which the media also likes as well rulers. They openly tell that only through this they get funds and limelight at political bosses. Recently these groups fed to a daily news paper on the expected crop production losses due to El Nino ÔÇô though IMD DG informed that it is not going to effects Indian monsoon. I myself talked on TV channels saying that ÔÇ£El Nino has no impact on Indian rainfall systemÔÇØ.

    For example since 1875 there were 36 El Nino years. Of this in 20 years Indian Southwest Monsoon rainfall was normal and in 16 years deficit rainfall. Majority of these years fall under below the average rainfall cycle of 60-year All India Southwest Monsoon rainfall -- below average 30-year period was 1957 to 1986. There are 10 El Nino years namely: 1957, 1963, 1965, 1968, 1969, 1972, 1976, 1977, 1982 & 1986. Of the 10 below 90% of the average precipitation years in this period 5 are El Nino years and 5 other El Nino years the precipitation was normal. From 1987 to 2009, the above average cycle part, there are 8 El Nino years, namely: 1987, 1991, 1994, 1997, 2002, 2004, 2006 & 2009. In this five El Nino years received normal rainfall and the rest of three El Nino years the precipitation was below 90% of the average. Also of the total 7 strong El Nino years in the period between 1957 to 2009 three years received normal rainfall and the remaining four years less than 90% of average rainfall was received. This clearly reflects that it is a random affect and thus Indian rainfall is not affected by per se by El Nino factor. It is like an elementary logic: cow is white and wall is white, so wall is cow.

    The fact is that yield is not a function of El Nino but if at all there is something it relates to precipitation. Eenadu presented impact of El Nino on crop production in which the figure on yields during 1981 to 2007 with strong El Nino during 1982 did not change the yield trend during 1981 to 1983. Same is the case during 1988 to 1992 with 1991 as a strong El Nino year. The two strong El Nino years 1991 and 1997 received normal rainfall in both the monsoons. Yet the figure on reduction in yield during El Nino period over different parts of the state compared to 1981-2007 showed a drastic reduction ÔÇô this is a bad analysis and comparison to create sensation. This type of analysis may help to get contacts with big-wigs but it miserably misleading the government and farmers. This is a bad research report. Eenadu talks of state yields and not national yields. Eenadu report was based on some research by agriculture groups but did not reveal the identity. This is the state of affair in Indian system.

    Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

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