India badly needs a good monsoon

Tags: Agriculture

There can be a much better harvest in 2016-17 if a strong La Niña happens

The Economic Survey 2015-16 has asked the government to be ready with a contingency plan for the next monsoon as La Niña seems unlikely before August. The caution comes as the country faced two consecutive years of drought. The survey asks the gov­ernment to be ready with a pl­an, including incentivising farmers to produce crops like pulses, which are most vulnerable to domestic supply pressures.

Although agriculture is likely to register low growth for the second year in a row on account of weak monsoon, it has performed better than last year. However, there could be a much better harvest in 2016-17 if a strong La Niña happens, the survey said.

During the last three ye­ars, the growth rates in agriculture have been fluctuating, 1.5 per cent in 2012-13, 4.2 per cent in 2013-14, and (-) 0.2 per cent in 2014-15. The government expe­cts the sector to grow at 1.1 per cent in 2015-16.

“India needs a good mo­nsoon very badly as there is no short-cut to remove far­mers’ distress,” said Prerana Desai, vice president (research) at Mumbai-bas­ed Edelweiss Integrated Co­mmodity Management. A normal monsoon will definitely help the government to implement its policy effectively, she said.

The survey, tabled in Parliament on Thursday, has cautioned that La Niña is unlikely to deliver its full bounty nor does it mean that the monsoon is going to be bad as all models point to a very low probability of a repeat of El Niño happening this year.

El Niño and La Nina are two weather events assoc­iated with warming and co­oling of the Pacific ocean near Ecuador and Peru. In El Nino years, Asia and Australia normally face drought while in La Nina it is just the opposite.

One shouldn’t expect La Niña conditions to develop before the second half of the south west monsoon season (June-September). Even if it develops, actual rainfall in India could take time as seen from the effects of the 2015 El Niño.

As indicated in the Economic Survey 2015-16, the government may launch a plan — rainbow revolution — to increase production of pulses.

The Indian agriculture has become cereal-centric and encouraging other cro­ps, notably pulses will be necessary to match supply with evolving dietary patterns that favor greater protein consumption, it said. Public procurement at minimum support price (MSP) has disproportionately focused on wheat, rice and sugarcane at the expense of other crops like pulses and oilseeds, it said while suggesting a policy shift.

“Procurement of pulses alone will not help in increase in production,” said MS Swaminathan, father of India’s green revolution th­at brought in self-sufficiency in food grains output. It is just one part, he said, add­ing the government has to make sure that farmers get assured remunerative pric­es so that they start growing in irrigated areas.

There has been talks about nutrition level in food for quite some time, he said and the steps like improving soil health will help the country to grow safe and healthy food, he said.

The survey has asked the government to take a decision on commercial adoption of genetically modified (GM) crops in next three to six months if productivity is to be raised in India, where 42 per cent of the people depend on farming. Issues like environmental and ethical issues, risk to food ch­ain, diseases and cross pollination need to be debated, tested, evaluated, so that introduction of hybrids is facilitated, it said.

The survey has asked the government to reorient agri­culture price policies (M­SPs) to reflect the country’s natural resource scarcities. One way of rationalising the policy is to make these price signals reflect social rather than just private returns of production as wheat, sugarcane or paddy add to depletion of soil health, water, and from burning crops.

The survey also suggested the government to stop procuring wheat and rice for the requirement for un­der the public distribution system (PDS) and instead purchase only for buffer st­ocks. There is a case for replacing the present system of procurement at MSP me­ant for PDS with direct benefit transfer (DBT).

prabhudatta.m@mydigitalfc.com

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