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Slow progress of monsoon shouldn't cause alarm. But it's a reminder of bad cropping patterns

The southwest monsoon in the first half of June was deficient by 32%. The shortfall was acute in the agriculturally critical northwest India where rainfall deficiency was 77%. The monsoon's slow progress, however, shouldn't be cause for alarm. We are still at an early stage and July, which accounts for almost one-third of the southwest monsoon, is the crucial month. IMD makes two forecasts on southwest monsoon. The first take is in April and the next one on the eve of monsoon. The update for the 2022 monsoon indicated that the current year is expected to be a normal one. From the standpoint of agriculture, the monsoon core zone which covers a large swathe of rainfed agricultural reegions in central India is expected to receive above normal rainfall. This is reassuring as the wheat harvest was adversely affected by a heatwave. However, the recurring anxiety over the progress of the monsoon is pointer to the structural problems in Indian agriculture that need to be addressed at all levels of policy.
India's a water-stressed country. It supports about 17% of the world's population with 4% of freshwater. About half of India's gross cropped area is irrigated. However, access to irrigation is uneven. Two crops, paddy and sugarcane, receive almost 60% of irrigation water. Add wheat, it covers about 80% of the irrigation. Of these crops, a sizeable proportion of output of paddy and sugarcane comes from regions that are unsuitable for their is a significant misalignment between cropping patterns and available water resources. This is intertwined with fiscally unsustainable electricity subsidies.
The Indian farmer responds to price incentives like any other economic agent. Therefore, individual farmers cannot ignore prevailing price dynamics and act on the basis of long-term consequences of the current water usage pattern. It's government policy that has to enable rational cropping patterns through the price mechanism. For example, Haryana has a scheme to provide a grant on a per-acre basis to nudge farmers away from the waterintensive paddy. Sensible policies like this need governments to constantly adjust incentives to dynamics of relative prices and attendant crop risks. Agriculture, which consumes 78% of our freshwater, can be aligned with rational resource use through smart policies tied to prices.

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