monsoon, India monsoon season, India agriculture, 
climate change, extreme weather, Indian farmers
Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP Photo
A farmer inspects his field after heavy rains at Chara village about 29 miles east of Allahabad,
India, Wednesday, July 1, 2009.

Erratic Monsoons Challenge India’s Farmers

July 21, 2009 05:00 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
The Indian subcontinent is experiencing a chaotic and uneven monsoon season, causing angry farmers to protest. Could more be done to prepare for such extreme weather?

Monsoon Brings Suffering and Chaos to India

The BBC reported on monsoon-related deaths in the Indian state of Orissa and in Karachi, Pakistan, where overflowing rivers and "incessant rain" have caused power outages and ruined crops. Ironically, Bangladesh is suffering from a lack of rainfall that could have a "seriously adverse affect on the next food harvest," according to government officials. In Karachi, the situation has led to demonstrations, with violent dispersals by police.

According to Agence France-Presse (AFP), "two thirds of the 1.1 billion population" of India is still dependent on agriculture for work. The subcontinent's "bread basket," the northwest areas of Punjab and Haryana, has so far experienced 59 percent less rainfall than is typical of the monsoon season, which lasts from June through September.

Although most of India is dependent on rain, 40 percent of the subcontinent relies on irrigation. AFP reports that irrigated farms produce four times as much as rain-fed farms, but according to P.D. Sharma, a senior scientist at the Indian Council of Agriculture Research, "the rain deficit so far will have repercussions as overall ground water recharging will be less."

Indian farmers receive subsidies, but the agricultural sector only grew by 1.6 percent in the past year, compared with 4.5 percent growth in recent years. Coupled with the lack of growth, states seem to be on their own with regard to extreme weather. According to AFP, states are urged by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to simply "draw up contingency plans for coping with crop failure if the monsoon doesn't show."

But where is the money for such contingency plans?

Qwidget is loading...

Background: Farmer suicides and the need for agricultural reforms

Kamta Ram, a farmer from Bara village, has experienced years of drought without government help or irrigation systems in place. Earlier this month, Ram told Jalees Andrabi of The National, "For all these years we have seen officers and contractors coming to our villages. But water never reached our lands. We don't know what happened to the money."

Ram has helped organize thousands of farmers near Ranchi, India, "whose livelihoods have been destroyed by years of drought." The farmers have threatened a mass suicide to coerce the government to take immediate action, according to Andrabi. Denied loans by banks and forced to borrow from private lenders who charge high interest rates, hundreds of indebted Indian farmers take their own lives every year, and others die of starvation.

According to Indo-Asian News Service (IANS), Indian farmers  need "[r]eforms, not concessions" in order to survive. The Consortium of Indian Farmers Associations (CIFA) is urging the Indian government "to raise public spending and allow private investment in agriculture and take steps to curb the rampant cheating in markets." Additionally, farmers seek "a good risk mitigation system," among other necessary measures.

P. Chengal Reddy, secretary general of CIFA, told IANS, "Indian farmers want respect and dignity. They don't want to go on begging." India's agricultural sector could be "globally competitive provided the government liberates agriculture from its clutches," Reddy feels.

Related Topic: Preparing for extreme weather and climate change

In some areas of the world, it's impossible to prepare for extreme weather, as was the case in the Indian state of Bihar in September 2008. The flooding that occurred "when the Kosi River breached a dam in Nepal" had not been seen in 30 years, Anjana Pasricha of Voice Of America reported. Chaos ensued as thousands of people evacuated the area amid spreading disease.

In areas where flooding and monsoons are a part of life, however, climate change will likely result in extreme weather that can be prepared for, experts say. Government leaders must do so despite the economic downturn, which is forcing increased focus on poverty alleviation and unemployment.

In The Christian Science Monitor, Simon Montlake discussed a report by the Asian Development Bank that suggests investments in "climate-proofed infrastructure, energy-efficient industry, and forest-fire protection systems" in areas affected by extreme weather. Putting safeguards in place before dire situations occur is crucial, says Zhuang Juzhong, assistant chief economist for the Asian Development Bank.

The report's coauthor, Tae Yong Jung, said, "Each government must realize that this investment is much cheaper now than later," according to Montlake.

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines