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Business News/ News / India/  Weatherman sees a very wet monsoon this year
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Weatherman sees a very wet monsoon this year

La Nina conditions, associated with good monsoon in India, are likely to set in by August-September

The Indian monsoon usually arrives over the southern tip of Kerala around June 1 and retreats in mid-September. (HT_PRINT)Premium
The Indian monsoon usually arrives over the southern tip of Kerala around June 1 and retreats in mid-September. (HT_PRINT)

New Delhi: India will likely receive above-normal monsoon rainfall this year with the El Nino weather phenomenon turning neutral and benign La Nina conditions setting in by August-September, the government’s weather office said, signalling relief across sectors, especially in agriculture.

Farmers across India suffered last year, with the Pacific-born El Niño phenomenon, which is associated with a warming ocean, sparking deficient rainfall, leading to 6% below-normal rainfall during monsoon. By contrast, La Nina causes the ocean to cool, creating conditions for steady rainfall.

“India is likely to see above-normal rainfall in the four-month monsoon season (June to September) with cumulative rainfall estimated at 106% of LPA (87 cm)," India Meteorological Department (IMD) director general Mrutyunjay Mahapatra said.

“Moderate El Nino conditions are prevailing at present. It is predicted to turn neutral by the time monsoon season commences. Thereafter, models suggest, La Lina conditions may set in by August-September." Cumulative monsoon rain nationwide between 104-110% of LPA is considered ‘above normal’.

The sequence of events seems just right for an upturn in the weather. Between 1951 and 2023, India experienced above-normal rainfall in the monsoon season on just nine occasions—and each time, La Nina followed an El Nino event, Mohapatra said.

The monsoon season is crucial for India as it delivers nearly 70% of its annual rainfall. Nearly half of India’s arable land doesn’t have access to irrigation and depends on these rains to grow crops such as rice, corn, cane, cotton and soybean. Agriculture accounts for about 14% of the country’s GDP. About 56% of the net cultivated area is rain-fed, accounting for 44% of food production.

Normal rainfall leads to robust crop production, helping keep a lid on food prices, including vegetables.

“Above normal rainfall with normal distribution over space and time augurs well not only for agricultural production but also the sluggish demand growth. However, adverse weather events due to climate change have the potential to cast a shadow over optimistic agricultural and consumption growth," said Devendra Pant, chief economist at India Ratings. “Despite an increase in irrigation intensity, Indian agriculture has a high dependence on rainfall. This is evident from agriculture GVA (gross value added) growth in the December quarter of 2023-24," Pant estimated.

“On the assumption of normal rainfall and its spread over space and time across the country during June-September (southwest monsoon), Indian agricultural GVA is expected to grow around 3% in 2024-25," he added. GVA growth of agriculture and allied sectors contracted 0.8% in the October-December quarter from 1.6% growth seen in the previous quarter. This is the first time in 19 quarters that farm GVA saw a decline. The growth rate was 5.2% in the year-ago period. In FY23, agriculture GVA growth stood at 4.7%, while in the first quarter of the current financial year, it was recorded at 3.5%.

“Food inflation risks remain high over the coming months due to expectation of heat waves. This could create volatility in vegetable prices. However, an above normal monsoon in 2024 could act as a buffer and help ease inflationary pressures during the kharif season. That said, the distribution of rainfall would remain critical, particularly if there is risk of excess rainfall during the latter half of the kharif season," said Sakhshi Gupta, principal economist at HDFC Bank

India received “below-average" rainfall—820 mm compared to the long-period average of 868.6 mm— in 2023, an El Nino year. Before 2023, India recorded “normal" and “above-normal" rainfall in the monsoon season for four years in a row.

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.

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.

Three large-scale climatic developments are considered for forecasting monsoon rains--El Nino, the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), which occurs due to differential warming of the western and eastern sides of the equatorial Indian Ocean, and the snow cover over the northern Himalayas and the Eurasian landmass, which also has an impact on the Indian monsoon.

Also read: Return of La Nina and its impact on Indian monsoon, agriculture

About IOD, the IMD sees positive conditions during the monsoon this year. Additionally, the snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere is low. These two conditions are favourable for the Indian southwest monsoon, the IMD chief said.

To be sure, there is a potential downside: La Nina can cause extreme rainfall. The previous La Nina event, for instance, lasted three years to March 2023, a period marked by floods, flash floods and landslides during the monsoons across many states of India, especially in the latter part of the seasons.

In a separate update, private forecaster Skymet last week said the country will likely receive normal monsoon rain in 2024 at 102% of the LPA or 868.6 mm.

Last year, the monsoon ended with 6% below-normal rainfall.

The forecast comes at a time El Nino has been causing drought and prolonged dry spells, driving the government to tackle inflation by taking a series of preventative measures, including the launch of Bharat atta, rice and dal, and export curbs.

India's retail inflation marginally decreased to 4.85% in March from 5.09% in February — this is still above the central bank's 4% target but within its tolerance range of 2-6% for the seventh consecutive month. Overall, food inflation fell to 8.52% last month from 8.66% in February, when it had seen a sharp rise in prices of meat, fish and eggs, and vegetables.

The forecast also assumes significance as India’s water level in 150 major reservoirs was measured as down to 33% of capacity last week.

Normal cumulative rainfall does not guarantee uniform temporal and spatial distribution of rain across the country, with climate change further increasing the variability of the rain-bearing system.

Climate scientists say the number of rainy days is declining while heavy rain events (more rain over a short period) are increasing, leading to frequent droughts and floods.

“Above normal rainfall with normal distribution over solace and time augurs well not only for agricultural production but also the sluggish demand growth. However, adverse weather events due to climate change have the potential to cast a shadow over optimistic agricultural and consumption growth," said Devendra Pant, chief economist at India Ratings.

The monsoon season is crucial for India as it delivers nearly 70% of its annual rainfall, making it important for farming. Nearly half of India's arable land doesn't have access to irrigation and depends on these rains to grow crops such as rice, corn, cane, cotton and soybean. Agriculture accounts for about 14% of the country's GDP.

About 56% of the net cultivated area is rain-fed, accounting for 44% of food production, making rains essential for India's food security. Normal rainfall leads to robust crop production, helping keep a lid on food prices, including vegetables.

“Despite an increase in irrigation intensity, Indian agriculture has a high dependence on rainfall. This is evident from agriculture GVA (gross value added) growth in the December quarter of 2023-24," Pant estimated.

"On the assumption of normal rainfall and its spread over space and time across the country during June-September (southwest monsoon), Indian agricultural GVA is expected to grow around 3% in 2024-25," he added.

GVA growth of agriculture and allied sectors contracted 0.8% in the October-December quarter from 1.6% growth seen in the previous quarter. This is the first time in 19 quarters that farm GVA saw a decline.

The growth rate was 5.2% in the year-ago period. In FY23, agriculture GVA growth stood at 4.7%, while in the first quarter of the current financial year, it was recorded at 3.5%.

"Though there could be a few regions where excessive rains may play spoilsport and lead to crop losses thereby reduction in consumption, a majority of the regions will flourish with normal monsoon. It will certainly lead to significant increase in consumption not just in rural India but also in urban," said Krishnarao Buddha, senior category head at Parle Products.

"The second half is expected to be promising with wading El Nino effects. Further, a stable government at the Centre will further boost the economy with several new investments," Buddha added.

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Puja Das
Puja Das is a New Delhi based reporter, covering food, farm, fertiliser, water, and climate change policies for Mint. Puja reports on food security, farmers' distress and how the agriculture sector is impacting India's rural economy along with policy initiatives to help meet the pledges made at COP21 in Paris. Puja holds a post-graduation degree in Broadcast Journalism from the Indian Institute of Journalism & New Media, Bangalore.
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Published: 15 Apr 2024, 03:00 PM IST
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