Event ReportsPublished on Aug 01, 2012
Inaugurating the ORF conference on "Generating responses to an uncertain monsoon", Minister of State for Agriculture Harish Rawat emphasised the need to understand the science behind the behaviour of the monsoon for achieving a long-term drought-proofing solution.
Generating responses to an uncertain monsoon

India is highly dependent on the timely arrival of monsoon. Any variation in its timing, because of many factors including the effect of El Nino, adversely impacts the agriculture, economy, living conditions and livestock. And in 2012, the country experienced irregular and deficient monsoon precipitation.

In this backdrop, Observer Research Foundation organised a roundtable discussion on "Generating Responses to an Uncertain Monsoon" on 1 August 2012. The event was inaugurated by Mr. Harish Rawat, the Union Minister of State for Agriculture, and chaired by Mr. Surendra Singh, Honorary Advisor, ORF and a former Union Cabinet Secretary.

Mr. Harish Rawat opened his inaugural speech by thanking everyone for organising the event and discussing a topic which, he said, "occupies the attention of the entire nation". He began by highlighting some major facts such as the contribution of southwest monsoon to 80% of the rain in the country and the percentage (55% to 60%) of the kharif cropping in India under rain-fed condition. He described the uncertain and unevenly distribution of monsoon in time and space as one of the major factors leading to distress of the farmers. He emphasised the need of timely onset of monsoon but acknowledged that sometimes despite a timely onset, mid season breaks can lead to crop failures. In such cases the farmers have to re-sow their crops and not only do they lose the time, labour and inputs but also are forced to invest again in the same season with no guarantee of success. He further stated that the monsoon impact is even more severe on rain-fed farmers who are generally poor and have little resources.

Mr. Rawat also accentuated the need for the improvement of technology and policy environment to help farmers during uncertain monsoons. He described the Indian Meteorological Department’s goal to predict 100% accurate forecast as welcoming news. He referred to the initiatives of government of India to address the issues such as the collaborative efforts of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation (DAC) on preparing contingency plans. Mr. Rawat concluded his speech by emphasising the need to understand the science behind the behaviour of the monsoon for achieving a long ?term drought-proofing solution and to draw some lessons from past to develop a drought combating strategy at a very large scale while involving all the stakeholders including NGO’s and other public organisations.

The inaugural address was followed by five presentations by distinguished experts. Dr. L.S. Rathore, Director General of Meteorology, Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), discussed the complexities related to predicting weather both in real and futuristic terms and stated that uncertainty is an integral part of weather and climate. India’s present forecasting system and techniques, their successes and limitations were also discussed. With respect to occurrence of monsoon in 2012, it was stated that at the beginning of the season, the forecast was 96% (+/- 4%). There was a deficiency of 8% in the month of April, and July and August would be better. It was estimated that the overall deficiency during 2012 was 19%. It was informed that steps have been taken for dissemination of such information to about 33 lakh farmers through SMS and voice messages. Dr. Rathore highlighted IMD’s goal to achieve 100% accurate data prediction and reach 12 million farmers through IT under the 12th five-year plan.

Dr. Ravender Singh, Head of Physics Division, Indian Agriculture Research Institute, described how we can manage agriculture droughts. He described drought as not a disaster but a management problem. He discussed the economical, environmental and social impacts of droughts and mentioned that rainfall deficit affects kharif crops most. During the presentation, reference was made to the risk management approach as well as agricultural strategies and technologies needed to combat uncertain monsoon in the areas of crop planning, crop substitution, cropping systems, fertilizer use, rain water management, water shed management, alternate land use, cattle camps and fodder supply. An important initiative in this respect is the preparation of agro-advisories which were sent to the farmers. It was stated that Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) in collaboration with the Indian Meteorological Department through its Integrated Agro-advisory Services are issuing weather-based advisories in the National Capital Region using the medium range forecast. These are disseminated through various mass media and placed on the websites of IARI to facilitate the farmers to take appropriate steps in mitigation of the monsoon uncertainties.

Dr. V.U.M. Rao, Project Coordinator (Agriculture Meteorology), Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture, Hyderabad, gave a presentation on contingency crop plans for aberrant weather conditions. He began by discussing the environmental and societal (social and economic) impacts of drought, and explained different types of drought situations - early, mid, and late season. It was stated that during the period 1877-2005, India experienced 24 major droughts and the major severe drought years were 2009, 2002, 1987, 1972, 1918, 1899 and 1877. Dr. Rao described steps taken by ICAR to overcome the problems, such as preparation of district-level crop contingency plans, farmer’s awareness programme on climate variability and change, agro-advisories, and climate resilient technologies. In conclusion he mentioned that timely dissemination of advisories is vital and ICTs need to be explored.

Mr. Bharat Sharma, Coordinator and Head, International Water Management Institute-India Program, presented his views on water management. The trends of public expenditure in major and medium irrigation and net irrigated area under different water sources (tanks, canals, ground water) were first described. The analysis revealed that groundwater resources are becoming unsustainable and for this reason he proposed four responses: (a) realise the potential of rain-fed agriculture through small but critical irrigation (b) provide access to ground water sustainably and smartly, mediate ground water-energy nexus (c) undertake big and bold interventions now to tackle the perpetual uncertainty and (d) improve and enhance protection through use of science, ICT, Safety nets. He also spoke about weather insurance and climate-smart villages.

Ms. Sambita Ghosh, Associate Fellow, Centre for Global Environmental Research, The Energy and Resources Institute, shared her experiences about the pattern of monsoon in the Indo-Gangetic plains using examples from Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, and Uttar Pradesh. As a response to uncertain monsoon, she stated, we need to customise the information at all scales, decentralise the responsibilities, build the capacity and conserve our resources.

Earlier, welcoming everyone, Mr. Surendra Singh introduced the topic of discussion and said that a large part of the country is experiencing serious problems due to uncertain monsoon. Reference was made to three different kinds of droughts, how they are all interrelated and impact the crop and economy in different ways. It was added that climate change and green house effect are major players contributing to the intensification of erratic monsoon.

Mr. Singh stressed the urgent need for early and accurate forecasting of weather for the benefit of farmers and agencies dealing with droughts, which would allow them to make necessary preparations in a timely manner. He expressed concern over India’s lack of an efficient weather forecasting system by comparing it to institutions like the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University. It was pointed out that the foreign institutions in comparison to IMD had released warning about erratic monsoon as early as February this year. The need to shift from the present relief-based model to a drought-proofing model was emphasised. It was suggested that there is a need to conserve rainwater, evolve long-term monsoon management plans and enhance R&D efforts in the field of agriculture.

Inaugural Address by the Minister

(This report is prepared by Pratibha Chauhan, Research Intern, Observer Research Foundation)

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