Rainfall and Indian Economy
Most of India is rural, where farmers depend on agriculture and pisciculture for their livelihood. The most important factor regulating the success of crop growing or fishing is rainfall. As more than 80% of the country’s rainfall occurs during the monsoon season, a significant chunk of the Indian economy depends on how the monsoon performs in a year. In this article, let’s look at how monsoon affects the Indian economy that generates a lot of revenue from agriculture and pisciculture.
Monsoon is a seasonal wind pattern that brings in clouds and rain to the Indian subcontinent, which is otherwise quite dry. Monsoons arrive in mainland India from the Indian Ocean around June 1 each year. Kerala is the first state in India to witness the arrival of monsoon. However, monsoons arrive earlier in the Andaman and Nicobar islands around May 21. Monsoon gradually covers southern states of India before arriving in north-east India. The last point to be covered by the monsoon lies in western Rajasthan, which is usually complete in the first week of July. This season is important for kharif or summer crops, which require a lot of rainfall. September 17 onwards, monsoon starts withdrawing from west Rajasthan and gradually withdraws from the entire country within a month and a half and is replaced by north-east monsoons, which are similar to trade winds, arriving on October 20. During autumn, the north-east monsoon fails to bring rainfall over India except Tamil Nadu and southern parts of Andhra Pradesh, where it is an important rainy season. The winter is marked by dry weather over most parts of the country except northern parts of India, especially the western Himalayan region, where western disturbances bring some rain. This winter rain is important for rabi or winter crops that require scanty rainfall. The spring and summer are marked by thunderstorms and sudden wind gusts usually occurring in the afternoon. They are called kalbaisakhi in West Bengal, Bordoishila in Assam, and mango showers and coffee showers in Kerala and Karnataka. The last two names suggest that they help in the ripening of mango and coffee crops, respectively.
The late and weak arrival of monsoon is not a good sign for farmers. Kharif crops are shown in April and May, such that their requirement of rainfall comes in June. Even 10 days late arrival of monsoon causes significant loss of productivity. Similarly, late withdrawal also causes excessive rain that damages drought-resistant crops, especially in Rajasthan, where monsoons are increasingly withdrawing late, by as far as one month. North-east monsoons are also arriving late, becoming inconsistent, and irregular. Cyclones and depressions have shown an increasing trend of developing both pre-monsoon and post-monsoon. Excessive rainfall caused by a cyclonic storm or depression also causes widespread damage to crops. India has, over the years, experienced drought and flood. This is of particular concern nowadays, as both drought and flood are occurring simultaneously in different parts of the country, damaging crops all around the country. Early rain, especially in winter and spring, is equally damaging for fruit production. Kashmiri apple is harvested in November, and heavy snow early for the season before apples are picked causes premature rotting. Similarly, cyclones or gusty winds in spring or early summer cause the falling of unripened mangoes, decreasing the availability of ripened mangoes.
Pisciculture of seasonal fishes is affected by the change in monsoon patterns. Hilsa, the prized fish from West Bengal, is best caught during the early monsoon stage when Hilsa fishes migrate from deep sea and reach inland freshwater rivers. Hilsa catch in West Bengal has lowered considerably due to weak monsoon rains during June and July. Cloudy sky, availability of freshwater in river estuaries, and calm water with drizzle are some factors provoking Hilsa to reach estuaries for their breeding. The absence of such conditions, especially in the Ganges delta, is causing a reduction in Hilsa catch. The extended rainy season in Maharashtra and Goa causes the Arabian Sea to remain warm in October and November, thus hampering the migration of fishes from warm to cool waters. It resulted in a 50% decline of fish catch in both states, while there is a marginal decline of fish catch in other states along the west coast. The effect of weakened north-east monsoon is seen in the steep decline of inland fish production of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Frequent cyclones cause the inability of fishers to reach deep sea for fishing. Reduction of fishing days can severely hinder the production of seasonal fishes, which are caught only at a particular season each year. However, unlike farmers, weather-hit fishers are not given compensation as per the latest laws of the Government.
Erratic rainfall has also impacted sericulture, floriculture, and apiculture in India. Sericulture is the rearing of the silkworm, floriculture is the term for large-scale cultivation of flowers, and apiculture is another word for beekeeping. While sericulture and floriculture are affected by bleak monsoon rains, apiculture is affected during continuous heavy rain for long periods. The rearing of silkworms has been increasingly affected by less summer and early monsoon rains, which are getting weaker. Both in Maharastra and Assam, March-July rains have reduced significantly, causing the disappearance of the silkworm. Silkworms prefer a cool climate with moderate humid conditions and water availability. Less rain and more sunlight mean hot weather during summer with a fall in humidity and water levels. A drop in late and post-monsoon rainfall affects flower production as most of the flowers are planted during September-November. This trend is seen in the east coast of the country, which usually gets late bursts of monsoon rains. The late bursts are now being replaced by deadly cyclones that do more harm to flowering plants than good. The Number of beehives has reduced significantly in the Nashik region of Maharashtra and in some other parts where moringa is cultivated. This reduction is attributed to excessive rainfall in short periods followed by floods.
Let us now look at some examples. In 2019, excessive monsoon rain followed by flooding caused significant damage to onion crops growing in Maharashtra and Gujarat. This led to a severe onion crisis in the country when the price of onions skyrocketed to more than 200%. Lower potato production in Uttar Pradesh, India’s biggest potato growing region, caused a more than 40% rise in potato prices last year. Though 40% may seem very less, it is a considerable margin for middle and lower-income class people for whom potato is a staple. Apple production was particularly damaged in the 2019 November snowfall in Jammu and Kashmir, which was declared a state disaster. Cyclone Amphan damaged mango trees and caused the premature fall of mangoes in West Bengal in 2020. Cyclone Tauktae wreaked havoc for fishers of Veraval in Gujarat, which accounted for 60% of Gujarat’s fish catch. The water crisis in big cities is also a major problem that needs to be encountered. The 2019 Chennai water crisis was due to poor north-east monsoon rains, while the 2020 Shimla water crisis was attributed to a snow-free winter in Himachal. We have already witnessed once-in-a-century floods in Kerala in 2018 and the most damaging 2013 Uttarakhand floods. The major crop-belt in eastern Maharashtra, north Karnataka, Telangana, interior Andhra Pradesh are receiving alternate years of flood and drought, hampering crop productivity.
India has witnessed its own ways of tackling such natural calamities. Over thousands of years, Indians have found a way to stand beside others and keep the production sustainable for the future. We have seen how water trains have moved from one place to another to curb water crises in any area. We have seen how flood monitoring techniques and accurate forecasts have helped farmers and fishers take preventive measures beforehand. In all natural disaster crises, we should stand beside others and help mitigate the situation. Values and humanity are the keys to a developed and prosperous nation.
Written by – Himadri Paul