Climate Change

Monsoon 2022 may be early, but will it be evenly spread

No established link about that, say scientists; but farmers and the government must be prepared

By Zumbish
Published: Monday 16 May 2022
Long dry spells between months in a year when monsoons have arrived early means that paddy plants in the transplantation stage are deprived of water. Photo: iStock

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted that the Southwest Monsoon will likely arrive a week early this year due to the impact of twin cyclones, Asani and Karim. But will the rainfall be even during the coming months? That is the question being asked by agricultural scientists.

A few agricultural scientists that Down To Earth spoke to, said there was no scientific explanation that established a relation between the early arrival of the monsoon and agricultural losses.

However, the years during which the monsoon arrived earlier (between May 23 and 29) were drought years. Some of these dry years in India were 1978-79, 1988-89, 2009-2010 and 2017-18.

The scientists, however, noted that there had been frequent instances in recent years across various parts of India where heavy untimely rains had occurred during the crop sowing and seeding period between May 15 and June 15.

This was followed by dry spells between June 15 and July 15, which is crucial for transplanting crops.

Read: Monsoon coming sooner to India, courtesy cyclones Asani and Karim

“What is bad news for kharif crops is not early or delayed monsoon but uneven distribution of rainfall, which has been witnessed often in years when the monsoon has arrived early. It certainly is a grave concern in the agricultural sector,” Swati Shabnam, a professor of agronomy at Birsa Agricultural University, Ranchi, Jharkhand, told DTE.

This is something even those working on farmer issues agree with.

“Early rains will not be a bad news for crops as long as rainfall is spread evenly through the (upcoming) kharif season,” Kiran Vissa of Rythu Swarajya Vedika, a network working for the well-being and rights of farmers, said.

What is the solution?

Vissa emphasised strengthening ground-level support systems in the form of weather-based crop insurances to rescue farmers from losses due to crop damage.

DK Mishra, a Jharkhand-based water rights activist, said the solution lay in ensuring protected irrigation to farmers and timely irrigation during sowing, transplanting, establishing the plant and the reaping season.  

However, cropping systems agronomist RK Malik said if irrigational adequacy would have prevented droughts, Punjab and Haryana, where 98 per cent of the targeted yield is met with irrigational adequacy, would have never suffered due to drought. But they did during 1987-88.

Mishra also agreed somewhat with this when he said: “The real issue is the gap of communication between farmers and the planners or policy makers.”

Indeed, in 2016, Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment had observed: “Drought is not about the lack of water or monsoons, but about a lack of planning, policies and foresight.”   

DTE had also highlighted the fact back in 2016 that Chhattisgarh, despite having created 118,000 water conservation structures over four years under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, failed to conserve water and drought-proof the state.

Agriculturists also argued that in case of monsoons punctuated with dry spells, it was difficult to find one solution for crop damage across the country as the ecology of south, north and other parts of India is different.

“If the sowing-seeding period in a certain region in the south is May-June, it may be June and July in a part of north India or vice versa,” Prabhat Kumar, assistant director with the Bihar agriculture department, told DTE.

“A solution that Bihar has resorted to for many years since 2000 has been to adopt the new farming technique of direct seeded rice (DSR) on the lines of Punjab and Haryana. For it, we use the zero tillage machine,” Kumar said.

Under DSR, farmers are trained to pre-irrigate their plot 10 days before they sow seeds. 

“This really helps them in episodes of long dry spells between July and August. With DSR, a plot that requires 180 centimetres of water usually, may require only 110-120 cm of water,” he said.

Bihar’s average rainfall is 120 cm.

“If there is a drop in average rainfall by 10 to 20 cm in a particular year, the yield production is affected. In such cases, the farmer is required to meet his irrigation needs with the help of tube wells. And to run tube wells to cultivate one hectare of land, 30 litres of diesel is required. Several farmers in rural Bihar lack resources and capital for this. DSR is a much better alternative,” Kumar said.

Meanwhile, Malik raised serious doubts over the accuracy of IMD’s long range forecast about the Southwest Monsoon in general. However, he said, “In recent years, IMD predictions about cyclones have far improved. They tend to be more accurate.”

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