Agriculture Policy

El Nino, Linked to Weak Monsoons, Has Emerged, Says US Weather Agency: The Fallout

Latur cattle camp 2016. Photo by Vivian Fernandes

El Nino, expected since the beginning of the year and linked to weak monsoons in India, has emerged, the Climate Prediction Centre (CPC) of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said in a June 8 press release.

“The threshold has been crossed,” Sivananda Pai, weather scientist who led the long-range forecasting team at the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) said. Pai is on deputation to the Institute of Climate change Studies in Kottayam as director.

The threshold, Pai was referring to, is the rise in sea surface temperature above the 30-year average by 0.5 degrees C in the El Nino 3.4 region. It is now 0.8 percent, the NOAA said. El Nino 3.4 region is a six million sq km area, five degrees above and below the Equator, and 170-120 west longitudes in the central Pacific.

Pai said Pacific trade winds have also weakened in tandem. This is expected to weaken monsoons in India though the countervailing weather influence, known as the Indian Ocean Dipole, is expected to be favourable. IOD will emerge around July-August and continue till October. Positive IOD means warmer sea temperature in the western Indian Ocean, and cooler temperature in the eastern part.

Climate change could exacerbate or mitigate certain impacts related to El Nino. For instance, it could lead to new records for temperatures, particularly in areas that already experience above-average temperatures during El Nino,” NOAA said.

El Nino has a long memory in the sense that it sustains for a year once it emerges. There is an 84 percent chance of greater than moderate strength El Nino and a 56 percent chance of a strong El Nino developing when it’s winter in India, NOAA added.

In February, NOAA has said there is a 49 percent probability of El Nino occurring in June-July-August.

What Will be the Impact?

Indian agriculture’s resilience to weather shocks has improved over time, writes S. Mahendra Dev, former director of Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (IGIDR)  in the Business Standard edition of 14 June, 2023. The area under irrigation, including micro-irrigation, has increased. Irrigated area’s share of cultivated area is more than 50 percent. There has been diversification of agriculture within the crop sector and into allied activities like horticulture, dairying and fisheries which are more resilient to deficient rainfall. The share of rural non-farm sector in income and employment has also risen. Also, water storage in reservoirs is higher than the 10-year average, currently. The stock of rice and wheat is more than three times higher than the norm as of 1 May, 2023.

Still, deficit rainfall could shave 40-50 basis points off GDP, even though agriculture’s share of gross value added (GVA) is just 15 percent. The fallout will be on industry, services, banking, and the financial sectors. Agriculture has grown slower than the recent average of 4 percent a year. It still accounts for 45 percent of rural employment and 65 percent of total employment. There is a possibility of rise in food inflation and decline in demand in rural demand for tractors, two-wheelers, fast-moving consumer goods and rural services. Exports of agricultural commodities could decline. The key factor, Dev writes, is the distribution of rainfall both across time and across regions. Kharif sowing so far of rice, pulses and oilseeds has slowed. Irrigated northwest India is likely to get less than 92 percent of the normal rainfall. The impact of deficit rainfall will be felt more in rainfed, unirrigated areas. Even canal and groundwater irrigation in many areas depend on the monsoons. District and state administrations should take countermeasures, Dev writes. Stocks of wheat, rice and pulses should be raised and import duties on agri-commodities should be reduced.

(Top photo: Cattle camp at Latur in May, 2016. Rainfall, the previous year, was deficient. It was 86 percent of the long-period average (LPA). Normal rainfall is 96 percent to 104 percent of the LPA. Photo by Vivian  Fernandes)

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