The monsoon’s uneven spread
While 210 districts had deficit rains of 20% or more, another 117 received excess rains of 20% or more
The June-to-september south-west monsoon, which was forecast to be normal this year, has so far seen a shortfall of just 3%, as compared to the normal or 50-year average, but the overall deficit is masking its uneven geographical spread, shows data from the India Meteorological Department (IMD).
Till 30 August, the data shows that 210 districts—or a third of the 630 districts in India for which IMD receives rainfall data daily—have seen deficit rains of 20% or more, while another 117 districts have received excess rains of 20% or more, compared to normal.
Rainfall is considered to be normal when it lies between -19% to +19% of the 50-year average. By that parameter, about 48% of India’s districts have received normal rains so far. In early June, IMD had forecast that the monsoon, which irrigates over half of India’s crop area, will likely be at 98% of the 50-year average, with a model error of 4% on either side.
The rainfall deficit districts are spread across the country, from Haryana and Uttar Pradesh in the north to Karnataka and Kerala in the south, putting crops like pulses, oilseeds, cotton and coarse grains under moisture stress.
The data shows that 46 out of 72 districts in Uttar Pradesh, 15 out of 21 districts in Haryana, 26 out of 51 districts in Madhya Pradesh, 12 out of 30 districts in Karnataka and seven out of 14 districts in Kerala, have seen sub-par rains.
Further, states like Rajasthan and Maharashtra have seen both excess and deficit rains in different parts of the state. While 11 out of 33 districts in Rajasthan have seen above normal rains, 14 districts in the state witnessed sub-par rains. In Maharashtra, while 10 out of 36 districts witnessed deficit rains, nine districts have seen excess rains.
Rains have not only been unevenly spread geographically; the month-wise distribution too is skewed. While June and July saw 4% and 1.7% rains above normal, respectively, for the entire country, August has so far seen 14% less rains compared to normal.
Rainfall data further shows that central India received 5% and 11% above normal rains in June and July, respectively, but saw a deficit of 28% in August.
The southern peninsular region, on the other hand, saw a 8% surplus in June, a 36% deficit in July and 16% more rains compared to the normal during August.
The monsoon season has seen floods in parts of at least five states—bihar, West Bengal, Assam, Gujarat, and Rajasthan—even as more than a third of India’s districts have received deficit rains.
This implies India’s crop production, from grains and pulses to oilseeds, is unlikely to match the record highs seen in 2016-17, achieved on the back of a normal monsoon in 2016.
Data from the agriculture ministry showed that until 25 August, planting of rain-fed kharif crops was only marginally lower year-on-year (2017-18 over 2016-17), but plantings of oilseeds and certain varieties of pulses was significantly lower, likely due to lower prices for this crops during the last kharif season.
The data shows that sowing of arhar (pigeon peas) is lower by 19% compared to last year, while that of groundnut and soybean is 11% and 7% lower, respectively. The data also shows that moving away from these crops, farmers have planted more of cotton and cane this year. Overall India’s food production is unlikely to be affected due to the regional variation in monsoon except for certain crops like oilseeds, pulses and cotton, said Siraj Hussain, former agriculture secretary and a visiting fellow at the Delhi-based Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations.
“However, deficit rains in states like Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh is extremely worrisome as it means farmers will be spending more to draw ground water which is already depleting at an alarming rate,” Hussain added.
The rainfall deficit districts are spread across the country, from Haryana and Uttar Pradesh in the north to Karnataka and Kerala in the south.