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Tuesday, August 07, 2001

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Monsoon hopes

THE MIXED-BAG that India Meteorological Department's mid-season review of south-west monsoon covering rainfall during June-July is, should sufficiently alert governments in the States and at the Centre not to take normalcy of monsoon during the rest of t he season for granted. Indeed, deficient rains in as many as nine out of the 35 meteorological sub-divisions this season is the worst performance of south-west monsoon since 1995.

Agriculturally important regions in the southern states of Andhra Pradesh (Rayalaseema, in particular), Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are facing acute shortage of precipitation, where the early-season drought conditions have led to reduction in area under cul tivation, with a definite negative impact on output of paddy, oilseeds and cotton.

However, all is not lost yet. Since last Friday, water-starved southern regions have received some life-saving rainfall, raising hopes not only of sustaining the crop already sown, but also some expansion of area under cultivation. Importantly, western a nd central parts of the country which reeled under drought conditions last two years have received generally satisfactory level of rainfall, where major crops are poised for a more-than-modest recovery from last year.

Overall, the country as a whole received an area-weighted rainfall of 490.4 mm, 5 per cent higher than the historical long-period average of 466.1 mm for the period. Moreover, the cumulative rainfall was normal to excess in 83 per cent of the country's a rea. Notwithstanding the reasonably optimistic picture, further progress of monsoon needs to be closely monitored for any disturbing signs.

For the country reeling under economic slowdown and facing massive loss of rural incomes for two years in a row (nearly 70 crore people dependent for livelihood on agriculture), the stakes in this year's agricultural growth are pretty high. A strong reco very in crop production and in turn, incomes in the ensuing marketing season is more critical now than in recent years. If kharif crops eventually turn out to be satisfactory, it is necessary for the official machinery to be in a state of readiness to en sure orderly marketing of the harvested produce. Cash-strapped farmers, especially in the western parts of the country, may be tempted to rush to the marketing yards for disposal of produce on harvest. Priority should be to prevent a price collapse, whic h can quite easily occur especially in case of oilseeds and cotton.

Unfortunately, even after eight weeks into the south-west monsoon, the Centre is yet to announce the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for various kharif crops. It is unclear if the recent change in Cabinet-rank minister heading the Agriculture Ministry occasi oned the delay. However, it is more than clear, rather than being an exception, unacceptable delays in announcement of MSP have become a rule with the Ministry of Agriculture in recent years, for no conceivable reason. This surely raises doubts about the policy-makers' professed concern for farmers.

Related links:
Southern belt may recover from dry spell
Rainfall spread `satisfactory'

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