FAO/GIEWS Global Watch India: About half of Indian districts face drought

278 districts in 11 states have been declared as drought-hit

In India, a late start of the monsoon, followed by erratic and scanty rains is expected to result in crop losses in about 45 percent of the districts. The rain deficit is also affecting water supplies and farmers in the affected areas are reportedly facing electricity and fuel shortages or higher costs for pumping water for irrigation.

The southwest summer monsoon rains normally start in early June in the south and work their way to the north by mid-July to begin the main Kharif cropping season. However, according to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), the cumulative rainfall from 1 June to 26 August this year was 25 percent below the long term average for the country as a whole. The cumulative rainfall deficit was highest in the North - 40 percent in the North-West and 25 percent in the North-East, while, the Central parts of the country faced 20 percent deficit. The South Peninsula was affected the least, experiencing some 14 percent rain deficit.

The National Crop Forecasting Centre has indicated that as of 28 August 2009, the area sown nationally under all Kharif crops was 86.756 million hectares, which is 8 percent below the last year's area sown by this time. Major reductions in paddy plantings are observed in the central states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand, southern state of Andhra Pradesh and the eastern state of West Bengal. Area planted in some of the northern states was likely helped due to available irrigation facilities there.

Water stock in selected 81 major reservoirs in the country during the first week of July was below 50 percent of the 10-year average level. Better rainfall in July in parts of the country had improved the stock to almost 100 percent of the average. The current level, however, is measured at 67 percent (Central Water Commission). Ironically, severe localized flooding has affected certain districts of Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Kerala, Maharashtra, and West Bengal states this season.

The impact of late and below normal precipitation on vegetation growth is shown in the NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) satellite images below (Figure 1). Although the exact impact of the late plantings is not yet known, a statement in late-August by the Minister of Agriculture indicated a reduction in rice production by 10 million tonnes (equivalent to about 12 percent of last year's kharif rice production). According to the country's Finance Minister, the drought is likely to reduce farm production for the Kharif season by 15 to 20 percent. Based on the past five-year average, cereal production from the Kharif season amounts to about 53 percent of total annual production and about 85 percent of the main staple rice production. India produced 117.7 million tonnes of foodgrains during the last Kharif season. The crops that are most affected include - sugarcane and rice-paddy in irrigated areas and coarse grains and pulses in dry land areas.

This could slowdown the country's gross domestic product (GDP) growth, which some sources forecast at 6.5 percent during the second half of this fiscal year, down from a 9 percent last year.

Government recently announced an increase in support price of paddy from INR 850 to INR 950 per quintal and similar increases for some other food crops have been promised.

In spite of the expected reduction in foodgrain production of this season, the overall food security in India is considered to be satisfactory given the high level of food stocks on hand (estimated at some 33 million tonnes of rice and 25 million tonnes of wheat), continuation of the export ban, and the provision of highly subsidised rice or wheat distribution programme especially for the below-poverty line families under the National Food Security Act. The fast developing situation, however, needs to be watched carefully.

Figure 1: NDVI satellite images

Source: FAO–ARTEMIS, SPOT Image.

Figure 2: Daily rainfall

Source: India Meteorological Department.