The agriculture sector has become a cause for concern due to inadequate and uneven rainfall. While the agricultural sector has often exceeded expectations and played a pivotal role in safeguarding the economy, the current scenario poses significant challenges. Attaining a growth rate of four percent is typically deemed satisfactory for agriculture. However, this sector’s importance transcends its contribution solely to total production or the value added to GDP. It holds immense significance as a primary source of income and livelihood for over 50% of the country’s population, thus serving as the backbone of the Indian economy.
Recent data from the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) indicates that around 267 districts across the country have experienced deficient rainfall from June 1 to August 24. The most severely impacted regions are in the eastern part of the country. Among these districts, 19 are situated in West Bengal, 11 in Odisha, and a substantial 19 in the smaller state of Jharkhand. Bihar faces a critical situation with 30 districts grappling with insufficient rainfall. Uttar Pradesh, being a prominent agricultural state, is not unaffected either, as 32 districts within it have received inadequate rainfall. In Chhattisgarh, 11 districts are also facing the same challenge. Traditional rice varieties, some requiring 100-200 days for maturity, are under threat due to the limited time left in the current season to await rain. Despite an initial 4.33% increase in sowing in June compared to the previous year, insufficient rainfall, particularly in August, has dramatically altered the situation. The impact of El Niño and unfavorable climatic conditions has contributed to a projected deficit of approximately seven million tons in global rice production, leading to anticipated high rice prices in the fiscal year 2024.
Fluctuating growth rate in agriculture
Analysis of the Economic Survey data reveals the fluctuating nature of agriculture’s growth rate in recent years. In 2016-17, the growth rate was 6.8%, followed by an impressive 6.6% in 2017-18. However, this was followed by a decline to 2.1% in 2018-19 and a rebound to 5.5% in 2019-20. In 2020-21, the growth rate stood at 3.3%, while it dipped further to 3% in 2021-22, falling below the six-year average. The last fiscal year, 2022-23, witnessed a growth rate of 3.5%. However, projections for the current fiscal year, 2023-24, are uncertain due to the inability to forecast accurately at this stage. The expected 5% decline in rice production in the current fiscal year indicates a challenging period for the sector.
Water reserves and impacts on Rabi Crops
Insufficient and erratic rainfall directly impacts water reserves, thereby affecting rabi (winter) crops, which heavily depend on stored water. Recent reports indicate that water levels in key reservoirs across India have fallen below the 10-year average for the first time in about a decade. This decrease in water storage capacity will further contribute to the challenges faced by rabi crops. The Central Water Commission’s data highlights that, as of August 17, the water levels in 146 reservoirs were at 111.285 billion cubic meters (62% of their combined storage capacity), lower than the previous year’s 135.88 cubic meters and the 10-year average of 112.92 cubic meters.
Government initiatives to address erratic rainfall
Recognizing the uncertainty of rainfall patterns, the central and state governments have taken initiatives to mitigate the impact. Early predictions of El Niño led to the imposition of restrictions on rice and onion exports. Furthermore, a 40% duty was imposed on onion exports. To enhance the availability of pulses in the Indian market, duty-free imports of pulses were permitted. There are also discussions about potential sugar exports. However, the abrupt imposition of export restrictions could lead to negative consequences on the international market, raising concerns about India’s reliability as a consistent food exporter.
State Governments’ Response
State governments are taking varied measures to tackle the challenges posed by inadequate rainfall. In West Bengal, several districts, including Birbhum, Purulia, Purba Bardhaman, Bankura, and Murshidabad, have received low rainfall. The Department of Agriculture, led by Minister in Charge Sovandeb Chattopadhyay, has formulated plans for alternative cultivation in these districts. The cultivation period is shorter, and water requirements are lower for these alternative crops. Distribution of seeds for Kolai, Turia, and oilseeds resembling mustard has been initiated to assist farmers in these districts during this critical period.
In conclusion, the irregular and scanty rainfall has brought about significant challenges in the agriculture sector. Swift and strategic measures from both the central and state governments are crucial to mitigate the potential adverse effects on crop production, food prices, and the livelihoods of millions of people dependent on agriculture.