El Nino is a climatic phenomenon which impacts the western coast of South America, Australia, Indonesia and the monsoon regions of South Asia. It lasts for a year. A strong El Nino usually leads to drought-like conditions in the affected areas. There is no fixed pattern as to when it occurs, but it has a periodicity of eight to ten years. But its frequency is increasing as a result of global warming. The year 2014 is supposed to be an El Nino year.
The trade winds over the Pacific Ocean create a Warm Pacific Pool. This acts as a low pressure area over the ocean and a high pressure in the upper Troposphere. This high pressure has a sinking arm at the Mascarene High near Madagascar. This creates a high pressure over Mascarene, which propels the South-West Monsoon winds giving rain to India. In El Nino years, there is a high Sea Surface temperature which prevents the formation of Warm Pacific Pool and subsequently weakens the South-West Monsoon winds blowing towards India. This leads to poor rainfall in India.
India is an agrarian country; it contributes to sixteen percent of India's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employs more than sixty percent of the working population. But, agriculture in India is largely rainfed. that is, it is monsoon dependent. The erratic nature of Indian monsoon leads to the vagaries in the agricultural productivity. In order to make Indian agriculture monsoon-proof, irrigation is required. Even after undertaking large scale irrigation projects, only thirty percent of India's land has irrigation. Moreover, India cannot have all its agricultural land under irrigation and fifty million hectares out of one hundred forty-five million hectares will always be dependent on monsoon. Hence, poor rainfalls affect agriculture and El Nino years inevitably lead to poor agricultural productivity.
El Nino is linked to drought, which is an agricultural condition where prolonged water shortages lead to crop failure. But every El Nino year does not lead to drought, for example in the year 2002. The drought prone regions of India include areas with rainfall less than 60 cm of rain like the plateau of peninsular India like Deccan plateau, the desert areas of Thar and Saurashtra in Western India and the upland regions of Tamil Nadu. These regions are also poor regions and droughts affect the people much more than people of other regions.
The main consequence of El Nino is poor productivity which affects the poor farmers of peninsular India. Since majority of population is employed in agriculture, the effects of poor productivity are far reaching. The poor productivity leads to increased incidence of poverty and famine. Even the milch animals go hungry and it leads to poor production of milk. Poor productivity, which causes shortage of food, also leads to high food inflation throughout the country. High food inflation affects the poor disproportionately. The poor population, which has to shell more money for food. have less income to spend on other dietary needs like proteins. In order to curb inflation, RBI increases the interest rates which affects the common man also. Thus the effects of El Nino are not just confined to farmers but the whole of India.
As India Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted the occurrence of El Nino in 2014, the government should take necessary steps to offset its effects. Government should promote the production of coarse grains. Coarse grains are able to meet all the dietary requirements of the people while at the same time require less water and are drought resistant. The Minimum Support Price of these grains should be made attractive to promote its production while that of rice and sugarcane, which are water intensive, should be reduced. The Public Distribution System for these grains should also be upgraded. There should be sale of seeds of crops which use less water. Government should make use of drought funds in case of serious drought and provide extra days of NREGA in such drought affected areas. It should release the stock of stored grains so that the food inflation does not rise unexpectedly.
We cannot control the weather phenomenon. The occurrence of El Nino is beyond our control. But we can take steps to minimize its effects to make sure that the poor population of the country doesn't go hungry.