Saturday, Nov 26, 2022

When both kharif and rabi fail

While it rained 103.5 per cent of normal in June, the corresponding ratios stood at 32.3 per cent in July, 55 per cent in August, 75 per cent in September and a little less than 50 per cent in October.

Going by rainfall data for 100 years, it’s apparent that drought chases Maharashtra’s Vidarbha and Marathwada regions once every four years or so. But even by that standard, 2015 has been a cruel year for the state’s farmers. Overall rainfall from June to October this time for the state was slightly below 60 per cent of the normal long period average. But the devil is in the month-wise data.

While it rained 103.5 per cent of normal in June, the corresponding ratios stood at 32.3 per cent in July, 55 per cent in August, 75 per cent in September and a little less than 50 per cent in October.

A promising start to the southwest monsoon led to the bulk of kharif season sowings being completed in June itself. Then followed the long dry spell of July-August, causing near-total destruction of the already planted kharif crop. September’s part revival encouraged farmers to go in for early rabi season sowings, which, could at least partially offset their kharif losses. But October turned out to be dry again. The northeast or ‘retreating’ monsoon’s sub-par performance has put paid to the prospects for the rabi crop as well.

As early as August, officials in the Maharashtra government had reconciled to a poor kharif harvest, while foreseeing farmers to advance and bring in more area under rabi sowing. “That was a bad idea,” said Tanaji Jadhav from Neknoor in Kaij taluka of Beed district. Rainfall was deficient in October and much of November. “There were minor showers here last week, but any amount of rain now is useless. I can, at best, hope to sell my two acres of jowar as fodder,” noted this farmer.

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While the India Meteorological Department, having revised a long range forecast to predict a deficient monsoon across the country, got it right on the whole, nobody predicted such an uneven monsoon.

KS Hosalikar, deputy director-general at the IMD’s Regional Meteorological Centre in Mumbai, says the monsoon was weak even over the coastal Konkan region this year.

“Offshore troughs over the Arabian Sea that deliver rainfall to Konkan were consistently weak this time, impacting Marathwada as well. Also, there weren’t enough systems over the Bay of Bengal giving rainfall to Vidarbha and Marathwada. Marathwada was affected by the failure of both systems,” he told The Indian Express. Hosalikar admitted a “not so rosy” picture for the rabi season either, especially in central Maharashtra — the eight districts of Marathwada plus Ahmednagar — where the current agricultural drought is heavily concentrated.

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North Maharashtra was spared the worst of this year’s second farm tragedy after the havoc wreaked by the unseasonal rainfall and hailstorms in March. Nashik, for instance, recorded 101.2 per cent of average rainfall for September, followed by showers in October and November. But in an analysis of dry spells lasting more than two weeks, the state government found even parts of north Maharashtra suffering the longest such episodes in the September-October period: 39 days in Nandurbar and 42 days in Jalgaon.

Vidarbha, which for a change wasn’t as badly drought-hit, also witnessed a near-total dry spell between mid-September and end-October: 42 days in Buldhana, Akola, Washim and Amravati; 40 days in Yavatmal, Wardha, Gondia and Nagpur; 39 days in Bhandara; and 38 days in Chandrapur and Gadchiroli.

“These are unusual as well as uneven monsoon events,” concluded SB Kharbade, head of Pune College of Agriculture’s agro-meteorology centre: “We expect rainfall in June-July, but are receiving it in September-October. Distribution patterns of rain are also more uneven now than ever. Thus, Pune got heavy rains last week, but there were no showers in Satara and Sangli”.

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In July and August, as the government attempted to seed clouds for artificial rainfall, they found the necessary cumulonimbus clouds absent. Now, even with the southwest monsoon’s complete withdrawal, large parts of Maharashtra are cloudy, possibly from the northeast monsoon active elsewhere in the country. The current cloudy weather, coupled with warmer nights, is also raising the spectre of lower yields in jowar, wheat and arhar from increased likelihood of pest attacks and diseases.

According to some farmer organisations, Central drought assessment teams visiting the state recently ought to have timed these closer to the new year, when the extent of damage to the rabi crop would be clearer. Officials from the relief and rehabilitation department, however, counter this by saying the current relief assistance sought from the Centre is specifically only for the kharif damage. While field surveys and assessment of rabi crops are only beginning, a second tranche of supplementary demands is bound to follow, they feel.

First published on: 03-12-2015 at 01:28:39 am
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