India’s agricultural sector, one of the largest in the world by volume, has shown remarkable success in the recent decade. This year, it has risen past the additional challenges from Covid-19 lockdowns.
Despite the ongoing farmer protests (related to procurement prices), the mood is upbeat among Indian farmers about a potentially successful harvest year ahead after bountiful rains.
Agriculture Key to India’s Economy
The agricultural sector in developing countries can be quite important. Most of today’s developed nations were once agricultural economies before they gradually transitioned into industry and service-oriented economies.
Many developing countries right now are at the crossroads of this transition, and India is one of them. Despite rapid economic growth and industrialization since the 1990s, India is still an agrarian economy, and the farm sector is one of the pillars of the economy.
The approximate number of people in India who depend on agricultural income is as much as the entire population of the United States. And where farming is prominent, rainfall and water access are important.
The Indian farming sector is located mostly in tropical climate and is highly sensitive to droughts. It also has an overarching impact on other sectors of the economy and on the country’s entire gross domestic product (GDP).
Erratic Monsoon, Yet Record Crop Outputs
Indian farmers face the unique challenge of an erratic rainfall system that has displayed no significant pattern over the last century. As a result, it has been nearly impossible to predict both short-term and long-term rainfall patterns.
Contrary to popular belief, the effect of anthropogenic climate change on India’s rainfall, and hence on its agriculture, has been insignificant. We can confirm this by looking at long-term rainfall patterns.
The India Meteorological Department (IMD)—the government’s official weather department—has had very little success predicting the monsoon rains every year. Though the IMD has been using advanced dynamic models since 2015, their models are still considered unreliable for forecasting the monsoon. Only localized forecasts, at regional levels, have been possible. This inefficiency in forecasting has even prompted farmers in some regions to make legal challenges against IMD on charges of misleading them.
Despite the inaccuracies in the forecasts and numerous cases of farmers’ losses due to them, crop production levels in India have consistently increased. We have registered record agricultural output each of the last three years. India’s 2019–20 food grain production hit a record high of 297 million tonnes.
In the 2020–2021 agricultural year (which ends in June 2021), the country is expected to register food grain output of 301 million tons, the highest ever.
Some predict that the output could be even higher given this year’s abundant rainfall, which has filled reservoirs and other sources of water for the agricultural fields.
As per IMD, India has recorded two consecutive years with above-normal monsoon rainfall in 2019 and 2020. This the first time this has happened since 1958 and 1959. As a result, the country is now expecting record crop outputs.
The Only Bright Shining Star During a Pandemic Year
Like many other countries, the Indian economy went into a grinding halt during 2020. Restrictions of the Covid-19 lockdown lasted well over three months, disrupting the lives of 1.3 billion people. Among them, millions lost jobs overnight, and till date, several hundred million people remain unemployed.
Amidst all this, India’s agricultural sector kept moving. Initially, farmers faced losses because the restrictions made it difficult to sell their produce. But markets soon reopened and were classified as hubs of essential services.
The agricultural sector has performed well in the first two financial quarters of the Indian financial year 2020–2021. It grew 3.4% in July–September. While India’s GDP fell 23.9% between April and June – the biggest drop in the history of India’s economy – agriculture (including fishing and forestry) was the only sector that grew during that quarter.
India’s agricultural sector has overcome this historic GDP fall and emerged stronger. We can expect the trend to continue until the summer of 2021. Given that rainfall in India has a direct impact on the country’s GDP and that fortunately, the rains have been good in the last 2 years, farmers have been able to produce record crop output.
Certainly, as the trend continues well into the coming year, agriculture could be one of the few sectors that contribute positively to the country’s GDP in 2021.
Vijay Jayaraj is a Research Contributor for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. He served as a research assistant at University of British Columbia, Canada and at numerous environmental projects in India. He has a Masters from University of East Anglia, UK.
The views and opinions expressed in the above article belong to the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official opinion, policy or position of Lokmaanya.