With the India Meteorological Department IMD repeatedly failing in accurately predicting the monsoon, India Inc has called for a change in the methodology followed by the country’s weather forecaster. A CII expert group, constituted in the aftermath of this year’s low rainfall, also suggested a re-look at the current cropping pattern and delivery of farm products, given erratic monsoon. The group also advocated immediate permission to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in food retail to streamline supply chains and infuse efficiency.
The group is headed by eminent agriculture economist and former Union minister Y K Alagh. Members include R Gopalakrishnan, director of Tata Sons; Kapil Mohan, executive director of Tata Chemicals; Siraj Chaudhury, chairman of Cargill India Ltd; R C A Jain, director, Jain Irrigation Systems; and Arvind Kapur, CEO, Rasi Seeds, among others.
In its report, titled ‘Food Security and Variable Monsoon,’ the panel suggested there should be more focus on crops that are important for food security but require less water (like pulses and oilseeds in the northern India) and shifting of paddy and sugarcane cultivation, which require more water, to eastern parts of the country receiving abundant rainfall.
“While, in the short-term, various measures need to be taken to ensure adequacy and price stability of food supplies, it is imperative to address some distortions in the production pattern and distribution mechanism in the medium to long term,” the report said.
India’s four-month southwest monsoon that starts from June is crucial not only for agriculture, but also for the economy, because around 45 per cent of the total arable land does not have proper irrigation facilities.
This year, rainfall has been almost 30 per cent below normal in June and 21 per cent in July, compelling the IMD to predict deficient rains in the country this year, down from its earlier forecast of normal showers.
Several parts of the country face drought-like conditions in span of less than four-years. In 2009, India suffered its worst drought in almost 30 years when monsoon rainfall was around 23 per cent below normal.
The report of the expert group said to keep a lid on prices of essential commodities, the government should facilitate availability of foodgrains and edible oils in the open market. It should also encourage private participation in foodgrain management, procurement and distribution.
“Fruit and vegetables should be taken out of the purview of Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) acts and the Essential Commodities Act should be reformed to enable free movement of agricultural commodities that will smoothen regional supply shortages,” the panel said. It also favoured the growth of modern spot exchanges to ensure seamless transactions of food items.