Too early for India to worry about drought: experts

Monday, 28 April 2003, 07:00 Hrs
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NEW DELHI: It is too early to give up on the monsoon and predict a drought, say experts while adding that India should act now to prevent a calamity like last year.

"It is too early to worry about the prospect of a drought this year. The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has forecast the rainfall at 96 percent," Agriculture Minister Ajit Singh told IANS.

"It could impact the reservoir position but as far as agriculture is concerned it does not tell us anything. The effect will depend on the pattern of monsoon over time and regions."

Unwilling to leave anything to chance, Ajit Singh is planning to convene a meeting of representatives of all drought affected states next month to put in place a mechanism for early relief to farmers.

"We plan to prepare for alternate crops and make adequate seeds available to farmers if the monsoon is delayed in some areas," the minister said.

Accounting for 80 percent of rainfall in the country, the summer monsoon that usually arrives in June is crucial for India's economy as around 70 percent of the population is dependent on agriculture for a livelihood.

Last year India suffered its worst drought in three decades, but still estimates the production of over 184 million tonnes grain production in 2002-03. This is, however, a decline of 13.2 percent from 212.02 million tonnes in the previous year.

Bharat Dogra, agriculture analyst and infrastructure expert, said: "The monsoon forecast is nothing to be worried about as yet as it is still over two months away in most drought-hit regions."

"It is too early to say anything about the monsoon as much will depend on when it occurs and in which region. What is worrying is that several regions are going to face severe water shortage in the next two months, till the monsoon arrives."

"These drought-affected areas, particularly Rajasthan, will also face severe shortage of food and fodder," he added.

Dogra feels India's overflowing silos with over 50 million tonnes of food grain from earlier years and more stocks coming into the granaries is a reassuring factor but would mean nothing unless it reached the needy.

"Our immediate focus should be on how to reach food and water for both man and animal in the areas under severe stress," said Dogra.

In spite of the severe drought last year, India produced enough grains for the country's needs. Except Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, all other major granaries produced good crop.

However, input cost was higher than in earlier years.

Ashok Khosla of Development Alternatives, a leading NGO working in rural areas, dismisses the meteorological department's report as too early and not to be relied on too much.

He feels it is high time more attention was paid to conserving water resources through proper use. "The water table in several areas is declining rapidly. If there is scarcity of water it will impact not only agriculture but also cause distress to man and animal," said Khosla.

Experts feel it is too early to give up on the monsoon.

"There is still ample time for the monsoon. In any case we have sufficient stocks to feed people and power growth in sectors like food processing," said Dilip Chenoy, agriculture expert with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

CII has forecasted a three percent growth in agriculture this year, reversing the negative trend of last year.
Source: IANS
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