The dreaded El Niño weather phenomenon is set to appear during the second half of the southwest monsoon, which may cause less-than-expected rains in August and September. El Niño had earlier hit the Indian monsoon in 2009, when the country faced a severe drought. This time, its impact is not clear as of now, but if there are excessive breaks in the monsoon, crops of paddy, oilseeds and pulses could bear the brunt.
Senior officials of the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said they were now more confident that El Niño would indeed appear during the second half of the southwest season, compared to April when the last official forecast was made. At the time of the April forecast, El Niño was in a neutral state.
“Between April and May-end, weather conditions have changed and we are now more certain that El Niño will make an appearance during the second half of the four-month southwest monsoon,” a senior IMD official, who did not want to be identified, told Business Standard.
He said weather models operational across the globe showed this. However, the intensity of El Niño is not clear, he added. El Niño, which is the generic term for warming of air surface pressure over the tropical west Pacific, causes low rains. Its coverage includes the Indian sub-continent.
In 2009, the drought it had caused was one of the worst in three decades. The rains in 2009 were almost 23 per cent below normal, leading to a sharp increase in prices of food items, particularly of fruits and vegetables. Foodgrains production dropped almost seven per cent, while overall farm production had contracted 0.1 per cent in 2009-10, year-on-year.
This year, if El Niño causes any intense break in the southwest monsoon, it could harm production of paddy (de-husked rice), oilseeds and pulses, as most crops planted in June reach their early maturing stage around August. Around 55 per cent of arable land in India is rain-fed.
Already, there are sceptical voices over India achieving 7.6 per cent growth in 2012-13, as was assumed in the Budget. Though agriculture contributes less than a fifth to India's gross domestic product, it is still the largest employer and, hence, crucial for demand generation in rural areas. Besides, good farm production assumes importance this time since food inflation is already in double digits, according to the latest data for April.
Eminent agricultural economist and chairman of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP), Ashok Gulati, in a recent interview to Business Standard had said this time rain could be erratic in northwestern parts of the country but normal over the southern and central parts. He based his argument on the unusually long winter and IMD's not-so-perfect record in predicting low monsoon years.
IMD officials said their prediction for onset and subsequent movement of the southwest monsoon over the Andaman islands and thereafter over the Kerala coast would, however remain unchanged. Earlier this month, the Met office had said the southwest monsoon would hit the Kerala coast around June 1, well within the normal date of arrival.
Its latest statement, issued yesterday also said: “The date of onset of the southwest monsoon over Kerala is likely to be June 1, with a model error of plus or minus four days.”
The southwest monsoon enters the Indian mainland from the Kerala coast in June and then covers the entire country in the subsequent months.
It starts retreating from west Rajasthan around September, after completing its four-month journey over India.
The four-month monsoon season provides around 70 per cent of total annual moisture that India receives. IMD in its first official forecast for 2012 southwest monsoon released last month had said that rains would be by and large normal across the country.
“Rains this year would be around 99 per cent of long period average (LPA). Normal monsoon is considered when rains are between 96 to 104 per cent of LPA,” IMD had said.
LPA is the average rainfall across the country in 50 years starting from 1941. It is estimated at 89 centimetres.