[ Agriculture ] Make it count | Business Standard–04.08.2017

The rainfall in the first half of the four-month monsoon season (June to September) has been fairly satisfactory despite the incidence of drought in parts of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala as well as floods in pockets of Gujarat, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Assam. The cumulative rainfall in the country has been about 2 per cent above the long period average, with as much as 80 per cent area receiving normal or above normal precipitation. As a result, there is every possibility that the total area under cultivation will be higher than last year. The prospects of kharif output breaking last year’s record are also bright, though agricultural growth may not show much increase over last year’s 4.1 per cent jump because of the base effect. Overall, this bodes well for agriculture, hydel power production and availability of water for irrigation, industry and other purposes. More significantly, by pushing up rural demand for goods and services, the overall economic growth for the year is likely to receive a boost.
But there are certain prerequisites for that to happen. Rural demand relies more on better prices of farm products, which translates into higher farm incomes, than on higher production. If, thanks to bumper harvests as well as the government’s mismanagement of imports and exports, the prices crash the way they did last financial year, it may neither generate more demand nor alleviate farm distress. On the contrary, it may even exacerbate the rural unrest that continues to simmer after taking a violent turn some time ago in several states; most notably in Madhya Pradesh, which has been clocking double-digit agricultural growth over several years in a row. The farmers’ conduct in the last three years, two of which were severe drought years, offers an important lesson. While they took the drought in their stride, viewing it as a natural calamity, and remained content with whatever succour was on offer, they could not digest the government’s failure to stem the slide in prices in the wake of higher production. The government would, therefore, need to be watchful on this count and modify its policies to hold the price line at a level where the interests of both producers and consumers are evenly matched.
The other area where the government would need to be vigilant is the management of reservoirs where water levels have been rising rapidly due to copious rainfall. Floods are often triggered by poor planning in releasing surplus water from dams, causing breaches in the embankments of rivers and canals. It is, therefore, essential for the authorities to keenly monitor the water levels vis-à-vis the projected rainfall and plan water discharge accordingly. The bottom line is that, given the vagaries of the monsoon and its socio-economic impact, the Centre, as well as the state governments, should be on high alert during the remaining part of the monsoon in order to capitalise on the favourable rainfall and stave off or, at least, minimise the possible ill-effects of excessive downpours. Otherwise, even a benevolent monsoon can turn out to be a bane rather than a boon.

via Make it count | Business Standard Editorials

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