Climate Change

Dry beginning: Scanty June rain means delayed Kharif; and it’s becoming common

This year, June ended with a 8% rainfall deficit, with large deficits in 18 states; the impact may extend up to the following Rabi season

By Shagun
Published: Friday 05 August 2022
All major paddy-growing states have recorded less sowing, compared to the last two years

The southwest monsoon touched mainland India May 29 this year, three days ahead of schedule. Yet, almost a month later, Ajit Pratap eagerly awaited the rains to reach his farm in Jalaun, Uttar Pradesh.

“I have not been able to sow basmati on my 10 hectares (ha),” he said. The forecasts then were that the district wouldn’t recieve rainfall before July — by which time the previous year the village had not only finished sowing but had also started transplanting paddy from the nursery to the farms.

Some 650 kilometres away, Gulab Kapse of Madhya Pradesh’s Betul district was forced to sow his soya bean crop twice after 60 per cent of the seeds he had sown between June 9 and 10 failed to germinate. Agriculture in Temni village is totally rain-dependent. “Usually it rains in June, but this time the proper rains started almost a month later, after July 14,” he said.

In Maharashtra’s Nashik district, Bharat Dighole said farmers could not sow in his village, Jaygaon, in June:

For the last six-seven years that June is going to waste. We are just starting to sow. By now, nursery preparation should have been completed.

Dighole cultivates soya bean, maize, cabbage and onion. In eastern India, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Bihar and Jharkhand have also reported delays in sowing this year because of a patchy monsoon.

June and July are the two most important kharif months, particularly for the 61 per cent of farmers who practice rain-fed agriculture, according to National Rainfed Area Authority. A dry June means the ground moisture levels are not conducive for sowing and the delay can cripple food production.

This year, June ended with an overall rain deficit of 8 per cent, with 18 states staring at a large deficit (60-99 per cent below long period average). Monsoon showers were largely absent over the southern peninsula, east and northeast, central and parts of north India, as per India Meteorological Department (IMD).

The situation changed drastically in July, and by the 22nd of the month, the monsoon was 10 per cent above normal. Rainfall in all the regions, except the east and northeast regions, was either close to normal, or comfortably above normal. But the damage had already been done by then.

Till July 22, farmers had sown seeds in little over 37 million ha. This is 26 per cent lower than last year and 34 per cent lower than 2020, as per the National Food Security Mission dashboard.

Data not available for Kerala, Ladakh and Goa
Source: National Food Security Mission, as on July 22, 2022Kharif accounts for nearly half of India’s annual food output.

Paddy, the most important kharif crop, is usually taken up for its nursery preparation in mid-June, and transplanting begins by July.

As of July 16, almost 13 million ha paddy had been planted. It is still 2.68 million ha less than last year. All major paddy-growing states, including Punjab, Haryana, Bihar, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh, have recorded less sowing compared to the last two years.

“There has been 30 per cent less transplantation of paddy this time, owing to scanty rainfall,” said Sitamram Mishra, head of the department of agriculture and meteorology at the Acharya Narendra Dev University of Agriculture and Technology in Ayodhya.

The worst affected are the marginal and small farmers who have no source of irrigation.

No district in Uttar Pradesh had received normal rainfall till June, which is a matter of concern, he says, adding that the high cost of diesel is also discouraging farmers from growing paddy.

“With June wasted, farmers can no longer sow medium- or long-duration crops because there is a risk of germination failure. Many farmers might not even sow crops this year. Those who start transplanting now will also need more seedlings because some might not branch,” said Surendranath Pashupalak, former vice chancellor of Odisha University of Agriculture and Technology.

Even the government is worried about the possible drop in paddy acreage and its likely impact on the public distribution system.

Piyush Goyal, Union Minister for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, urged farmers at a July 5 event to grow more paddy this year, which is a departure from the usual government stance of asking farmers to diversify and move beyond paddy.

Up to July 14, the Food Corporation of India had procured 58.3 million tonnes of paddy in the Kharif marketing season (October 2021 to September 2022).

This is just enough to meet the rice demand for various government schemes (56.5 million tonnes) in 2021-22. There is an additional demand for rice this year since wheat production was alarmingly low, forcing the Centre to substitute it with rice under the National Food Security Act, 2013.

“The current situation cannot be called comfortable,” said Shweta Saini, senior fellow, Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations.

Clear shift 

A dry June is becoming a chronic problem for farmers. In nine of the past 12 years, the month was drier than normal in 10 or more meteorological sub-divisions, suggests IMD data.

Kharif rain in Punjab has decreased 7 per cent in 30 years, according to a 2019 article in the Economic and Political Weekly.

“June is experiencing erratic rainfall and higher temperatures than normal. So we have shifted the sowing period from June to early July in the past few years,” said Raman Yadav, a farmer from Chhattisgarh’s Dhamtari district.

The country may need to realign its cropping cycles to the current climatological situation.

“While the monthly averages have remained more or less constant during the monsoon season, the intensity and frequency of rainy days might have changed over time,” Saini.

This must be mapped for at least 30 years or more, said SB Yadav, with the department of agricultural meteorology at the Anand Agricultural University in Gujarat.

Even if July rain is normal, what is critical is the frequency of rain rather than the monthly average. “Dry spells are happening more now, and if rain takes a longer break after sowing, the seedlings dry,” said Saini.

Like the arrival, the withdrawal of the monsoon season is also becoming erratic. In recent years, India has witnessed unseasonal rainfall in October, which destroys standing crops that are ready for harvesting. Plants need at least 15 dry days before they can be harvested.

“From the last few years, the monsoon has moved forward and important rain months have shifted to July and August,” said Saini. A drier monsoon affects even the rabi season when farmers depend on groundwater that gets replenished by rainfall.

This was first published in Down To Earth’s print edition (dated 1-15 August, 2022)

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