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The elnino effect and agriculture in India


India is an agricultural country. Not only in past but in present importance of agriculture cannot be ruled out as more than 60% population is dependent on agriculture. It contributes around 14% in GDP of India. Though the contribution in GDP, is not that high as that of other sectors, yet the economy is largely affected by agriculture output. If any year output is less, prices of commodities rise in general and if production rises in any year economy goes smoothly on the path of growth.

The most important characteristic of Indian agriculture which cannot be missed out by any one if discourses are being held on it and that is its dependence on Monsoon. Monsoon is a natural phenomenon in which there is a complete reversal of wind which occurs from the month of June to September. This monsoon is the major reason of Indian rainy reason because 90% rains happen in this period only.

Importance of Monsoon in agriculture production implies that it is still hounded by natural phenomena because most or say more than 60% of net cultivable area is rainfed. Even after more than 6 decades of independence we do not have sufficient irrigation facilities. This also makes Indian agriculture vulnerable. This vulnerability is further increased when other sudden adverse and unwanted natural phenomena happens in addition to the regular ones. El-nino is one of them.

El-Nino is a Spanish word which means 'little boy'. When El-nino occurs, normal atmospheric conditions change completely. This term is used when cold ocean current off the Peru coast is replaced by the warm ocean current in the Pacific Ocean which in turns changes wind pattern and cause drought and flood in the different part of world. It usually occurs in about 8-10 years cycle in the month of December and the reasons are still unknown.

It has profound impact on Indian agriculture as whenever it occurs, brings less rainfall in monsoons. Drought is not an uncommon affect of El-nino. In 2009, the year of last El-nino, there was a severe drought which in turn resulted in less crop production, same happened in 2004.

El-nino adds miseries to the life of Indian farmer. Less crop production means less income which in turns means more borrowing by the farmer for his sustenance. In rural areas of India, borrowing is largely done from the local money lender who charges more interest than the normal. Though government is promoting rural credit, yet because of paper work involved, lack of near bank branches & knowledge hinders the farmer from availing the loan from institutions. Paying interest means reduction in the consumable income of already reduced total income. Sometimes these situation forces the male farming community to migrate to urban areas. Effect of migration is easily visible on the rural women in the form of more responsibilities. This has an indirect bearing on the social welfare programmes and schemes formulated by government to empower women.

Even after having large areas under cultivation we are growing less per hectare, whereas a country like North Korea is growing more rice per hectare(5.3 tonnes) than India (2.3 tonnes), traditional knowledge has not been fully utilised. Apart from this, effect of el-nino is magnified due to lack of high-yield variety seeds, adequate agriculture infrastructure, canals, dams etc.

There is a need to look to other countries' agriculture output, their farming techniques, el-nino effect on that. We should check are the other countries having the same adverse effect of these natural phenomena in general and el-nino in particular? We also need to introspect and analyze our farming techniques so that such adverse effects can be mitigated.

-Kajal Gurnani