Ashok Chander, a Dalit farmer from Rohtak district of Haryana, has taken two acres of land on contract for Rs 25,000. His indebtedness rose sharply after his early wheat crop was completely damaged due to unseasoned rainfall and hailstorm that happened at about the same time in March last year.
"It did not rain in January and early February when we deeply hoped for it to and wreaked massive damage when it finally did in mid-March", said Singh.
The heavy damage to Rabi (winter) crops like wheat, mustard and chickpea in key producing states like Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra had triggered food inflation, in March last year.
But this was nothing compared to the crop losses faced by farmers in 2015.
Farmers in 15 states bore the brunt of unseasonal rain in March and April in 2015 —just ahead of the winter harvest—which led to a 7% drop in wheat production in 2014-15 (compared to the previous year) and damaged the pulses crop, whose production fell by nearly 2 million tonnes. Freak rain in 2015 was preceded by a drought in 2014, when the June to September southwest monsoon recorded a deficit of 12%. This was followed by a second drought in 2015, which saw a 14% deficit in rainfall and as many as 10 states declaring drought. (livemint.com).
Importance of good monsoon in India
In spite of the introduction of improved irrigation methods, around 40% of cropped area still entirely depends upon rain-water. Further, a number of dams, reservoirs, rivers, and canals are rain-fed and depend upon the monsoon rains. (importantindia.com)
Simply speaking, the Indian economy gains due to good Monsoon rains in the country. On the other hand, weak Monsoon rains result in crop failure which affects the economy in a negative manner due to lower production. Later on, this translates into price-rise, low industrial output, and other issues.
Normal monsoon keeps a check on food inflation by ensuring bountiful crop. However, in a situation of drought, prices soar significantly. Not only do the prices increase drastically but the cost of living also tends to reach a new high. Also, if poor monsoon results in less crop output, the country may even need to import. (skymetweather.com)
As early as in 1925, the Royal Commission On Agriculture In India described the Indian economy as a gamble on the monsoon. Some three decades later, in 1953, the prestigious The Economic Weekly in a long editorial simply titled The Monsoon bemoaned the lack of proper meteorological tools to forecast monsoons and said: "Had the annual rainfall meant as much in the economic life of Europe as it does in this country, it is a permissible guess that some measure would have been found for it here long ago".
More than half a century later, the Business Standard reported over the weekend: "The rains, from June to September, are vital for the 55% of farmland without irrigation in India, one of the world's largest producers and consumers of food." (bbc.co.uk)
How weather variability affects agriculture in India?
The one thing that a farmer finds himself incapable of protecting his crop against is wrath of bad weather. The increasing global weather variability has increased crop loss risks, making it difficult for farmers to take the dreaded plunge of improving agriculture production.
Rendered helpless by the growing uncertainty of weather, farmer has no option but to hope for favourable weather as his crops traverse different stages of crop cycle. This coupled with farmers' unawareness about the modern agricultural technologies and recommendations, leaves little or no room for ensuring increased yields and savings in money and time.
A significant number of farmers in India not only rely on good crop produce to overcome debts incurred but also to meet the food requirement of their family. It is due to an Indian farmer's unparalleled dependency on rains that deficient/unseasonal rainfall has been identified as one of the biggest reasons for farmer suicides across the country.
Tens of thousands of Indian farmers have killed themselves over the last decade - by drinking pesticides or hanging themselves from trees - as unseasonal rains and drought combined with lower global commodity prices have hurt farm incomes. More than 12,600 farmers and agricultural laborers committed suicide in 2015 alone - making up almost 10 percent of all suicides in India, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). (reuters.com)
Need for local, real-time weather information
As farmers across all states suffer massive crop loss on account of vulnerability of agriculture to increasing weather and climatic variability, the availability of timely weather information becomes imperative to most of the agronomic management decisions made on the farms.
From electing the most suitable variety of crop to post harvest operations to marketing, farmers are in constant need of reliable information that allows them to do day-today agronomic management of crops and adopt best practices against extreme weather events.
The timely information on local weather would help farmers assess wind condition to plan effective and timely pest control and soil fertility applications, improve prediction for crop yield and identify weather-related farm management problems.
In India, where farmers live at the mercy of monsoon rains, Ashok is, but a representation of millions of growers who suffer crop losses due to extreme weather events every year because a whole lot of agronomic decision that they need to make on a daily basis are weather-dependent.
What is needed here is the ability of growers to integrate live, local weather information including air temperature, precipitation, wind speed and direction, and humidity with farm management practices for cost cuttings and ability to increase production.