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Surinder Sud: Gamble in the monsoons

There have been good crops in years of poor rain

Surinder Sud  |  New Delhi 

There have been good crops in years of poor rain and huge variations in years which have had similar rain.

The prospects of a good crop are often linked to the monsoon rainfall. A below-normal rainfall is seen as a pointer to depressed production. But, going by the past record, the relationship is not so direct; there is little direct correlation between the total monsoon rainfall and the crop output.

The monsoon is just one of the several factors that determine agricultural production. Also, in case of the monsoon, the pattern of rainfall seems more significant than the total rainfall from the point of view the crop-harvest.

Monsoon Rainfall and

Foodgrain Production


(% of normal)
(million tonnes)
2000 92 196.8
2001 92 212.9
2002 81 174.8
2003 102 213.1
2004 87 198.4
2005 99 208.6
2006 100 217.3
2007 106 230.8
2008 98 233.9
Source: Rainfall From IMD: Production from Ministry of Agriculture

The accompanying table, depicting monsoon rainfall and foodgrain production in various years, clearly indicates that even with a lower rainfall, a relatively higher crop output is possible. The reverse is equally true.

In the current decade, the monsoon rainfall as well as foodgrains output have fluctuated widely. But these fluctuations, in most cases, are far from being in tandem with each other.

The monsoon rainfall in 2000 as well as in 2001 was the same — 92 per cent of the normal. But while the foodgrain output in 2000 was merely 196.8 million tonnes, it was 212.9 million tonnes in 2001 — a good 16 million tonnes, or 8 per cent, higher than in 2000.

In 2005,the total rainfall was 99 per cent of the normal level — far better than the 92 per cent level in 2001. But the foodgrain output in 2005 turned out to be lower (208.6 million tonnes) than in 2001 (212.9 million tonnes).

Take the years 2003 and 2006. In 2003, the rainfall was 102 per cent of the normal level and the foodgrain production was 213.1 million tonnes. The year 2006, on the other hand, had a 2 per cent lower rainfall, but the production rose by nearly four million tonnes to 217.3 million tonnes.

The trend of the last two years, indeed, brings out the lack of any one-to-one correlation between the monsoon rainfall and the farm harvest even more starkly. The 2007 monsoon was bountiful with 106 per cent of the normal rainfall. The production, too, set a new record of 230.8 million tonnes.

But the following year, 2008, saw precipitation levels fall by 8 per cent — as a result, the 2008 monsoon was 98 per cent of the normal level — while the foodgrain harvest rose further to a new peak of 233.9 million tonnes (according to the the fourth advance estimates for 2008-09 released by the agriculture ministry on July 21).

Indeed, even the notion that the rainfall in July is the most critical for crop production took a beating last year. As much as a17 per cent rainfall deficiency in July 2008 had caused widespread concern about farm production. But, the output in 2008-09 has turned out to be the highest ever.

The obvious inference that can be drawn from this analysis is that even lower-than-normal monsoon rainfall is good enough for crop growth if other conditions are favourable. Apart from the quantum and distribution of the rainfall, other climatic factors like temperature and humidity are also important.

Equally significant are non-climatic factors such as the use of inputs including seeds, fertilisers, irrigation and plant protection chemicals; agronomic and crop-management practices; technology and incidence of diseases and pests. Passing a judgment on the crop outlook just on the basis of rains alone seems incorrect.  

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First Published: Tue, July 28 2009. 00:04 IST