In November 2018, a spate of farmer demonstrations in Delhi was seen. These demonstrations failed the farmers, as their leadership collapsed for petty, personal gains. Now, farmers in Maharashtra, marching towards Mumbai, may or may not be able to reach the city. These protests to the city are led by political organisations, but do these agitations represent real rural distress, or are they just political?
If the distress is real, then it will have an impact on rural votes during the general elections. Political parties may think that pre-poll alliances will help them win the elections. Unfortunately, in this debate and discussion, the mood of the rural voters has been forgotten.
And one of the strongest determinants of rural votes is how well they are doing economically.
Rabi Season’s Rainfall Crucial for Food & Cash Crops
Rural economics are still determined by the heavens, and it seems the rain gods will determine the fortunes of the political parties as well. While political pundits along with questionable pollsters may claim to know minds of the voters, they mostly end up extrapolating their opinion to the masses. To understand the rural mood, let’s look at one metric – rain data. We have taken the weekly rainfall data provided by the Ministry of Agriculture to understand the impact of it on farmers’ income.
We know that seven in ten Indians work in agriculture, and the bulk of them depend on rains for successful production. If the rains fail, then the overall cost of production goes up dramatically, making it nonviable.
This is because the farmer has to use diesel pumps to take out ground water for agriculture. If the cost of diesel is added, then even if the crop is good, they will not make a profit. Therefore, the outcome of the Rabi season rains play a crucial role for both food and cash crop production.
Rainfall in Rabi Season
Weekly rainfall data between October and February (first week) for the Rabi season 2018-19, paints a bleak and unstable picture. The Rabi season extends from October (sowing period) to February. Data is categorised according to four zones: North West (NW), Central India, South Peninsular India and East and North East India (E and NE).
Rainfall at the beginning of the season, which is sowing period, has the maximum impact on Rabi crops. In October 2018, rainfall fell well below the Long Period Average (LPA); it was Large Deficient (60-99 percent less than LPA) in all four zones.
This means the Rabi crop across the country has been affected by poor rains. This is in sharp contrast to last year when the southern and central states received excess or large excess rains during October 2017. Last year, Rabi rains affected North West Zone most severely, and this region continues to suffer this year as well. North West zone includes the following states: Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Chandigarh, Delhi, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir. While the central zone includes: Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Goa and Gujarat.
No Answers to Gap in October Rain Data
In the current Rabi season, North West zone hardly got any rains in the beginning of October, followed by a sharp rise (15.6mm) in the first week of November. There is a missing gap of two weeks in the data for October which is inexplicable, and all efforts to seek explanations for it failed.
The concerned officials failed to respond to the reason for this gap.
The only response was non-ownership of the data, Shibendu S Ray, Director, Mahalanobis National Crop Forecast Centre (MNCFC) said, “ We are not supposed to provide rainfall data. It is IMD, which is the source of rainfall data. We are just providing data to facilitate the states for drought declaration. And MNCFC is not supposed to give you any explanation.” This was after spending several days asking for the data from various other officers in the department.
Rainfall Patterns Across Zones And Their Impact
This volatility in the rains was seen throughout the season with long periods of No Rain spells followed by Large Excesses of 312 percent being recorded towards the end of January. This is volatility is also not good for crops as it does more harm to the standing crop, because the ground cannot absorb the rain, leading to slushy fields and flattening of the crops.
In the central zone comprising Madhya Pradesh, Goa, Gujarat, and Chhattisgarh, there were many periods of Large Deficient in the first nine weeks post 1 October 2018.
However, the middle of December and end of January were met with Large Excesses of over 1000 percent and 140 percent, respectively. In contrast to this, in 2017, rainfall in the central states was concentrated in the middle of October, post which, the region received little rainfall for most of the season. The trend of rainfall in the central zone is now similar to north west zone with its own pitfalls for the farmer.
In the south peninsular states, long spells of Large Deficient Rainfall have been punctured by excessive rains. In the east and northeast zone, rainfall has remained elusive, registering two “No Rain” weeks and 11 “Large Deficiency” weeks. This would have been a difficult period to navigate for both the local farmer and agrarian workers, and for the current administrations.
Owing to the fact that the initial weeks are critical to the current Rabi season, weak monsoon in all four zones may have weighed heavily on agricultural activity. The effect of this may be inferred by a decline in the Rabi sowing area for many important crops.
Farmers’ protests are easy to diffuse, as their leadership is easily convinced, but the distress due to the rains is real. It needs to be addressed as it has an impact on the incumbent government.
(This article was first published on Quint Hindi)
(K Yatish Rajawat is the former editor of DNA. He can be reached @yatishrajawat. Data analysis and research done by Shivam Kaushik. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)