Fore­cast Flaws

Spot-on mon­soon pre­dic­tions leave out de­tails that can hin­der crop prospects

Business Today - - CONTENTS - By JOE C. MATHEW @joec­mathew

In the last week of March, pri­vate weather fore­cast­ing agency Skymet Weather Ser­vices pre­dicted that rain­fall this mon­soon would be be­low nor­mal. In early April, In­dia Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal De­part­ment ( IMD), the coun­try’s 142-yearold na­tional weather bureau, came up with its as­sess­ment – rain­fall would be nor­mal.

In a coun­try where about 54 per cent of the gross cropped area is rain- fed, and agri­cul­ture and al­lied sec­tors con­trib­ute 17 per cent of its gross value added or GVA (`20.93 lakh crore at cur­rent prices dur­ing 2015/16), any com­ment on the mon­soon calls for an in­stant re­sponse.

Right af­ter the Skymet pre­dic­tion, Ritesh Ku­mar Sahu, an an­a­lyst with An­gel Com­modi­ties Broking, pointed out a surge in guar gum fu­tures prices, at­tribut­ing it to the “an­tic­i­pa­tion that mon­soon may be weak on ac­count of El Nino, cou­pled with grow­ing ex­port de­mand from the coun­try”.

Un­der­stand­ably, the IMD fore­cast was greeted with re­lief. In­dus­try cham­bers said it would mean mod­est food in­fla­tion and vi­brancy in In­dia’s eco­nomic growth. Buoyed by the of­fi­cial fore­cast, Radha Mo­han Singh, Union Min­is­ter for Agri­cul­ture and Farm­ers Wel­fare, an­nounced a food grain pro­duc­tion tar­get of 273 mil­lion tonne ( MT) for 2017/18.

A closer look sug­gests that the dif­fer­ence be­tween the two pre­dic­tions is not much. While Skymet has pre­dicted that the South­west Mon­soon 2017 is likely to be be­low nor­mal at 95 per cent of the long pe­riod av­er­age ( LPA) of 887 mm, the IMD says it is likely to be 96 per cent of the LPA. Both agen­cies have given a stan­dard er­ror mar­gin of +/-5 per cent.

So, how re­li­able are these pre­dic­tions?

In 2016, the cumulative mon­soon rain­fall dur­ing June-Septem­ber was 3 per cent lower than the LPA, and it was well within the pre­dic­tions. But here is a more de­tailed ac­count of rain­fall in the four broad ge­o­graph­i­cal di­vi­sions dur­ing the pe­riod: Rain­fall was 6 per cent higher than the LPA in Cen­tral In­dia, 11 per cent lower than the LPA in East and North­east, 8 per cent lower in South Penin­sula and 5 per cent lower in North West In­dia.

Out of the 629 dis­tricts, 111 (18 per cent) had ex­cess rain­fall, 314 (50 per cent) saw nor­mal rain­fall, 189 (30 per cent) re­ceived de­fi­cient rain­fall and 15 (2 per cent) dis­tricts had scanty rain­fall dur­ing the pe­riod. Dur­ing the post-mon­soon sea­son ( Oc­to­ber 1- De­cem­ber 31, 2016), the cumulative rain­fall, as a whole, was 45 per cent lower than the LPA, which ex­plains the drought re­lief de­mands from some states.

It shows that the long-term pre­dic­tions, even if ac­cu­rate, do not fore­see dis­tri­bu­tion pat­terns. How­ever, a lot de­pends on when, where and with what in­ten­sity the rain will fall. Late ar­rival of mon­soon, early with­drawal, in­ten­sity as well as the dis­tri­bu­tion pat­tern can af­fect the over­all growth of agri­cul­ture and al­lied sec­tors. There­fore, in spite of the IMD’s pos­i­tive pre­dic­tions, the min­istry of agri­cul­ture is busy ready­ing dis­trict-level con­tin­gency plans to min­imise the im­pact of a bad mon­soon.

THE IMD also pro­vides weather-based agri­cul­ture ad­vi­sories to farm­ers. Such ef­forts are laud­able, but it should be done at a sub-dis­trict level. The closer you are to the farm, the bet­ter the anal­y­sis. ~

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