Mint Explainer: Return of La Nina and its impact on Indian monsoon, agriculture

Rains in the June-September monsoon season drives the bulk of India's $3 trillion economy. (Image: Pixabay)
Rains in the June-September monsoon season drives the bulk of India's $3 trillion economy. (Image: Pixabay)

Summary

  • La Nina's return is poised to boost India's monsoon rains, offering a much-needed respite for its agriculture

For the Indian farmer, this summer may bring good tidings, thanks to favourable weather predictions.

Global weather agencies, including the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Climate Center, have forecast the return of the La Nina phenomenon. This event is generally linked to better southwest monsoon rains in India, a stark contrast to the El Nino, which often results in inadequate monsoon showers.

Mint takes a look at how La Nina could positively influence India's monsoon season and, consequently, its agriculture sector.

Understanding El Nino and La Nina

El Nino, Spanish for "little boy," is a climatic pattern marked by elevated sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean. This phenomenon tends to emerge every two to seven years and can last from nine to twelve months, affecting weather conditions globally. 

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) had noted that El Nino peaked in December but is expected to cause above-normal temperatures across most land regions until May, often leading to reduced rainfall and drought conditions.

La Nina, or "little girl" in Spanish, is characterized by the cooling of sea surface temperatures in the same regions. Occurring roughly every three to five years, La Nina can sometimes happen in consecutive years, bringing about increased rainfall and distinct weather patterns.

What is the monsoon forecast for India?

India is likely to experience above-normal rains during its peak monsoon season from July to September on expectations of the return of the La Nina. According to global weather agencies, La Nina conditions may first appear in June, but are likely to be prominent in August and September.

“Enhanced probability for above-normal precipitation is predicted for the region spanning eastern Africa to the Arabian Sea, India, the Bay of Bengal, and Indonesia, the Caribbean Sea, the tropical North Atlantic, southern Australia, and the southern South Pacific. A tendency for above-normal precipitation is expected for some regions of East Asia and northern Australia," the APCC Climate Center stated.

The India Meteorological Department, the country's official weather forecaster, will issue its monsoon forecast in April.

Phenomenon and impact

The WMO declared the start of El Nino on 4 July 2023, leading to one of the weakest southwest monsoons in India over the past five years, characterized by uneven rainfall distribution. August marked the driest month in a century, culminating in a season that ended with 6% below normal rains.

Rains in the June-September monsoon season drive the bulk of India's $3 trillion economy. It accounts for nearly 75% of the country's annual rainfall, which plays a crucial role in agriculture, replenishes reservoirs and aquifers, and helps meet power demand.

Over half of India's arable land is rain-fed and agriculture remains among the biggest employment generators. 

The El Nino phenomenon adversely affected crop yields, resulting in a 1.4% decrease in food grain production for the 2023-24 (July-June) crop year to 309.38 million tonnes. This drop in output has led to increased food prices, prompting government interventions such as export bans on rice and onions and regulated retail sales of essential food items.

By February 2024, food inflation, as measured by the Consumer Food Price Index, climbed to 8.66%, showing a slight decrease from the 9.53% recorded in December.

Meanwhile, as of 1 March, the beginning of the pre-monsoon season, at least 48% of 711 districts for which data is available had received deficient rainfall.

Also, water level in more than half of India’s 150 major reservoirs is lower than 40% of the capacity with the storage in two-thirds being less than 50%, as per the Central Water Commission.

These reservoirs, which supply water for drinking and irrigation, are replenished with pre-monsoon and monsoon rains.

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