Indian Monsoon Variability: It’s Impact on the Indian Economy

South-west (SW) monsoon, spanning from June to September is the predominant contributor to more than 70 per cent of nation’s total annual precipitation. This rainfall season coincides with the Kharif crop growing period during which major crops such as rice, pulses, oilseeds, cotton, jute, and sugarcane are cultivated. These Kharif crops, accounting for about 63 percent of total cropped area, contribute over 55 per cent to the nation’s total foodgrain output. 

Historically, agricultural production in India remains predominantly rainfed, hence, rainfall variability results in changes in crop production. Instances of reduced rainfall have often led to decreased crop production. While agricultural production has historically relied heavily on monsoon rainfall, the landscape has evolved significantly over the years. 

CII’s analysis of foodgrain and major kharif crop production trends from 1950 to 2022 reveals a strong and positive impact of irrigation and rainfall on the output of foodgrains and major kharif crops. Notably, the influence of irrigation on overall foodgrain production has grown, while the impact of rainfall has gradually waned. The rise in access to irrigation facilities has, over the years, reduced the dependence of agriculture on monsoons. 

Monsoon Variability Leading to Sowing Delays and Inflation Surges 

Insufficient rainfall, particularly during the month of August, has significantly hindered the timely sowing of the majority of kharif crops. 

This delayed progress is of particular concern for pulses, with arhar and moong experiencing a decrease in growth of 4.9 per cent and 6 per cent, respectively compared to the previous year. Among coarse cereals, jowar displayed lack of sowing progress, registering a 9.6 percent decline. 

The adverse impact of deficient rainfall is also seen on pulses due to inadequate coverage of irrigated land (only 23 percent) under its cultivation. Similarly, the progress of sowing has been slow in the case of jowar due to lack of irrigation facilities (only 11 per cent area covered under irrigation). In contrast, rice has remained resilient to deficient rainfall with positive sowing progress due to the wide availability of irrigation facilities, covering a substantial 65 percent of the area. 

Intensifying El Nino Raises Concerns 

Previous episodes of El Nino have typically resulted in falling agricultural GVA and severely impacted kharif production and yield. In the majority of these cases, low kharif production and yield have often been associated with moderate or strong intensity of El Nino. 

Given the current expectation of El Nino phenomenon potentially intensifying to a moderate level by September this year, the outlook for rainfall remains a cause for concern. It is highly likely that India may experience below normal or deficient rainfall in the coming months with potentially adverse effects on agriculture GVA, kharif production and yield. 

Monsoon and Agriculture 

There has been a huge disparity in the distribution of monsoon rainfall across regions. August’s dry spell is of particular concern as it led to delayed sowing of kharif crops like pulses and jowar, which could impact crop production and yield. Crops like rice, which have benefitted from irrigation, have remained resilient.  

Insufficient rainfall has also contributed to inflation, especially among pulses and coarse cereals, which can potentially impact food security. The presence of El Nino raises concerns about future rainfall patterns that can further have an adverse effect on crop production, yield and inflation rates. 

Advancements in irrigation infrastructure can significantly reduce the reliance of agriculture on rainfall. Despite the considerable development of irrigation facilities over the years, the extent of land covered under irrigation remains low, especially for pulses, coarse cereals, and oilseeds. 

Future Outlook 

While Indian agriculture has made significant strides in reducing its reliance on monsoon rainfall through increased irrigation for foodgrain production, this transition isn’t uniform across all crops. Major crops like coarse cereals, pulses and oilseeds remain susceptible to monsoon variability due to limited coverage of irrigation which presents a significant challenge. 

Given the rising unpredictability of monsoons due to climate change, substantial investments in expanding irrigation infrastructure are critical for ensuring food security and stable agriculture production in the future. There is a need for targeted irrigation expansion for vulnerable crops to reduce their susceptibility to monsoon variability. Other measures like crop diversification, efficient water management practices, inflation management, and investing in climate-resilient agriculture practices are pivotal for mitigating the risk of erratic monsoon and safeguarding food security in face of monsoon uncertainties.  

This article has been derived from detailed trends analysed in the latest issue of CII ARTHA, focused on the theme, ‘Vagaries of Monsoon: Impact on India’s Growth Prospects’. 

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