Cyclone, El Niño – Is the Modi Government Facing Heavy Weather?

Cyclone, El Niño – Is the Modi Government Facing Heavy Weather?

It would be hard to predict how cropping patterns will change and further, how much food security will be impacted. But one must assume that India may be headed towards lower production than in previous years.

The weather seems to spell double trouble for the Modi government as India heads for an election year. The mega-cyclone Biparjoy hit western Gujarat and Rajasthan, while weather experts have raised alarms about the El Niño effect affecting the Indian monsoon and causing severe droughts in India, harming Kharif sowing. Another bad monsoon would disrupt India’s food production, cause further agrarian distress and undermine India’s food security.

Biparjoy made landfall in western India from the Arabian Sea. Warmer surface temperatures are responsible for the cyclone’s extended lifespan in the Arabian Sea. Before landfall, the Indian Meteorological Department said Biparjoy could become the longest-lived cyclone in the Arabian Sea, surpassing Hurricane Kyarr in 2019, which lasted nine days and 15 hours. As of June 14, the Arabian Sea had already sustained Biparjoy for over eight days.

Biparjoy’s devastation is temporary, but these cyclonic winds may have eaten up the Indian monsoon. Rains in Delhi and other parts of north India will cool the mainland and deflate the atmospheric pressure required for bringing monsoon winds inland. A hot summer heats up the mainland, allowing for moisture laden winds which build up in the oceans and move into India. But this year, these patterns have been disrupted by the cyclone.

In most parts of India, the Kharif sowing begins between the end of June and mid-July. Once the cyclone passes, Indian farmers may be thirsty for rain again, because monsoon rains may be delayed. So farmers will have to brace up as they may find their fields fallow this July. To compensate, farmers will be overdrawing the surface water and underground water where it is available, adding pressure on already shrinking water resources.

Drier parts of Western India like Gujarat and Rajasthan, which do not see heavier rainfall and moisture, could see another round of floods and excessive rainfall affecting agricultural production. Untimely heavy rain could erode fertile topsoil in these fragile areas, and could affect cotton, peanut and other dry land crop production. Last year, cumin production was also impacted by the weather and this year, too, it won’t be merciful.

For the past two years, monsoons and heatwaves have been erratic all over India, and most farmers depend on rain for sowing. Central India saw the worst of it. India lost out on paddy production last year as farmers chose other crops for lack of water. Wheat, India’s second most important cereal, suffered heavy losses in the last two years. This Rabi too, wheat suffered due to untimely rain, from MP to Punjab.

Now, with strategic food reserves dwindling, Modi’s promise of feeding 80 crore Indians with government rations seems to be ever more unattainable. If this monsoon fails again, there will be added pressure on the public distribution system. Clean drinking water could also be scarce.

The government’s climate hazard assessment or response plan doesn’t include farmers. In many parts of the country, they are yet to receive compensation for climate-related damage from last year, and with these new climate trends, their sorrows will only increase. Rainfed areas will be worst hit. They would have no alternative but to migrate or lean on the government PDS system.

It would be hard to predict how cropping patterns will change and further, how much food security will be impacted. But one must assume that India may be headed towards lower production than in previous years.

Most farmers, especially in the rain-fed region, plant only in the Kharif season, and if the Kharif sowing fails for some reason, electorally, the Modi government would have to reap the bitter harvest of the climate crisis.

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