‘Normal’ monsoon only statistical reality

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) forecast of a normal monsoon for this year has brought relief and cheer, and if the prediction comes true it will be the third consecutive year of a normal monsoon. The IMD has said that rainfall will be 97% of the long-term average of 89 cm, which makes it a normal monsoon year in meteorological terms. The IMD report also agrees with the prediction made by a private weather forecasting agency. The behaviour of the southwest monsoon is important because more than half of the cultivated land in the country depends on it in the absence of irrigation or water conservation facilities. Though the contribution of agriculture to the GDP is a low 15%, large numbers of people depend on it for livelihood, and so the importance of a normal monsoon cannot be overstated. A good monsoon aids agricultural production and puts more money in the hands of farmers, thus increasing the demand for goods, especially consumer goods, and boosting the economy.

But a normal monsoon for the whole country does not ensure that agriculture will be served well everywhere. Normalcy is a statistical norm and average, and what matters is the actual rainfall in particular regions and places. The spatial and temporal distribution of the rainfall is therefore very important. Though the monsoon was near normal last year for the country as a whole, it was deficient in 216 districts, and some parts of the country, including areas in Karnataka, experienced drought conditions. There was farm distress in many areas. The temporal distribution was uneven, with the monsoon taking a break in August after a good start in June. So, it is to be seen when, how long and how much it rains in different areas of the country and that will determine how good the monsoon will be. The IMD will give a detailed picture before the outbreak of the monsoon, but it is yet to gain enough expertise to give a correct picture. The experimental plan to issue 15-day forecasts in various states, starting this year, will hopefully be of use to farmers.

Since predictions have gone wrong in the past in various ways, governments and farmers should be ready to face the prospect of a failure of monsoon or excess rains, at least in some parts of the country. The uncertainty about the monsoon makes it important for the country to extend irrigation facilities to all areas and to adopt techniques for efficient use of water and conservation of water everywhere. The possible impact of climate change on the monsoon, farming and all economic activities makes long-term planning about the use of water especially important.

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