Why is India obsessed with monsoon rains?

 
Beachgoers stroll along the Fort Kochi beach while holding umbrellas during a rain shower in the southern Indian city of Kochi May 29, 2013 The monsoon rains hit Kerala over the weekend

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This is possibly the only time of the year in India when over a billion people await an unusual bit of news with bated breath.

And so, this time the tidings are good and arrived over the weekend.

Monsoon hits Kerala, India ready to tap it , announced a relieved Business Standard on Saturday. The newspaper said the southwest monsoon, "the lifeline for millions of farmers across the country" had hit the southern state on its "usual onset date".

Even Bollywood's biggest star Amitabh Bachchan joined the celebrations.

"The monsoons have reached Kerala and the Lakshdweep islands... This is a good sign... A week later, traditionally, they should be over Mumbai... This is an indicator of a normal monsoon. We survive and depend on this rain phenomena and much of India's produce depends on its performance - the monsoons I mean," the actor wrote on his blog.

Monsoon rains are serious business in India.

Editorials are written on it, weather experts talk about it on prime time news television, and people send up prayers when it's delayed. Weather insurance policies with built in rainfall insurance are sold to farmers as a hedge against uncertain weather.

A good monsoon leads to bountiful crop which raises farm incomes, boosts rural consumption and drives the economy. A weak monsoon - and droughts, in extreme cases - hurts farm workers, raises food prices, encourages hoarders and generally creates havoc in the economy.

As early as in 1925, the Royal Commission On Agriculture In India described the Indian economy as a gamble on the monsoon.

Some three decades later, in 1953, the prestigious The Economic Weekly in a long editorial simply titled The Monsoon bemoaned the lack of proper meteorological tools to forecast monsoons and said: "Had the annual rainfall meant as much in the economic life of Europe as it does in this country, it is a permissible guess that some measure would have been found for it ere long".

More than half a century later, the Business Standard reported over the weekend: "The rains, from June to September, are vital for the 55% of farmland without irrigation in India, one of the world's largest producers and consumers of food."

Consider the facts and you realise why over a billion people are obsessed with monsoon rains.

India's farms are mainly rain-fed. The country receives 75% of its yearly rainfall between June and September. Some 70% of Indians depend directly or indirectly on farming.

Farming accounts for 14.5% of India's $1.83 trillion GDP, and though its share is declining, agriculture still accounts for a whopping 58% of the total employment in the country.

And then there's the spectre of drought.

Some 68% of India, according to the Indian Space Research Organisation, is prone to droughts in varying degrees - a third of this area is actually "chronically drought prone". Between 1801 and 2002, according to one estimate, India faced 42 severe droughts, many of them damaging crops and hurting growth.

To rely less on the vagaries of the monsoon rains, India, say experts, needs to develop varieties of rice, pulses and oilseeds which are drought resistant, evolve early drought warning systems and improve meteorological tools to provide sharper forecasts.

It also needs to ramp up its still scanty water conservation efforts. Too much water gets wasted. India also needs to manage its huge food stocks - over 60 million tonnes at the start of this year - much better. Too much food gets destroyed and damaged. That, many say, is a bigger tragedy than an imprecise monsoon forecast.

 
Soutik Biswas Article written by Soutik Biswas Soutik Biswas Delhi correspondent

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 61.

    @59.Jay,
    I can't speak as to the quality of Indian scientists, but as far as I'm aware the thorium molten salt reactor was successfully tested in Oak ridge national laboratories in the USA in the 60's and I was also aware that India had a large portion of the world's Thorium reserves.
    I personally don't see any problem with India collaborating with the USA or any other country to develop LFTR.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 60.

    The backbone & most of India's success in high-tech areas like nuclear & space came during early part of our independence with some world class talents- http://is.gd/0wGGkm
    Now both space & nuclear research (like other areas of research too) suffer severe shortage of qualified scientists.
    It'll be really surprising if India can establish a thorium based power plant in next 20 years or so.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 59.

    @Andyg (55). India (BARC) is "working" on thorium (with 30% world reserve) since 1950 when Homi Bhaba suggested India to pursue it instead of Uranium, which is not so plentiful in India.

    India's urgency for the civilian nuclear cooperation with US (& rest of the world) is the manifestation of India's failure to develop the technology (& some other critical ones too) despite of huge investment.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 58.

    Don't forget that Hinduism sees the cosmos as cyclical in nature - days and nights; the 4 seasons; years; the vast stretches of cosmic time (eg the current "dark age" of kali-yuga); and at the micro level, the transmigration of souls through cycles of earthly lives.

    Given this cyclical cultural focus, it is hardly surprising that the life- (and death-) giving monsoons merit such attention.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 57.

    The monsoon rain will be there but floods can be controlled after previous experience.Government should put more money and see is spent properly and not pocketed by politicians.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 56.

    The monsoon, with most of the year's rain falling in a couple of months, now often brings as much havoc as it does benefits. The rain used to be trapped in the vast hill jungle areas and then released slowly over a long period, but due to massive deforestation it is now the signal for river surges and widespread flooding with consequent loss of life in places like Bangladesh.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 55.

    At least India is one of the countries currently working on Thorium as a viable source of nuclear power. This would represent a very cheap and clean form of energy which could be used to economically desalinate sea water, or power indoor vertical farms thus resolving any future water or food shortages India might face.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 54.

    Whom do you expect to declare that a specific technology is or is not safe if you ban it? God? Indian Govt routinely ignores recommendation of its own scientific panel!

    India's culture of corruption, wrong policies & policy paralysis is a major issue for many new entrepreneurs (not from businessman family) & attract mainly 'wrong' kind of business &/or businessmen- more since 1991 liberalization.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 53.

    I agree. The government should put its money where its mouth is. I guess in some ways spending some money this way rather it being used to line the pocket of politician is a good thing :-D

    It is a sad day when wasting money is looked at as a better of two evils.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 52.

    If Indian Govt is so against GM, as it seems now, why it's not stopping 'wasting' money on such projects!

    Indian Govt is not able or even sincere to implement a simple process by holding public funded universities & institutes accountable by forcing them to disclose amount of money it got from Govt, objectives & achievements for all projects in a open website. It'll have so many benefits.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 51.

    Interesting question. hmm.... Companies and also encourage students/professional to do research in GMO by churning out GMO products OR lets study how the effect of the GMO product including how it is affecting even minor things like bugs will play out in the long run and look at the big picture.... tough choice

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 50.

    Watch this YouTube video. A talk at a scientific symposium at Israel- "Can We Still Feed the World a Secure & Healthy Diet in 2050?" - http://is.gd/ntMfQP

    It'll great stupidity to think that our world would be anywhere near to feed itself by avoiding GM, even now- forget 2050. Even rich countries like Swiss with more land per capita hardly produce half of what it consumes- without GM!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 49.

    @ Hari (45)- "No one is advocating stopping research on GMO".

    Why shd a company invest on research when it has no clue on marketing the products developed by such a technology? Why a young student/professional waste his/her career to join such research?

    Lack of vision, commitment & long tern uncertainty discourage both at personal & institutional/industry level. Consequences r far reaching too.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 48.

    @ Hari (45).
    There are few areas of concern about the use (not the technology itself) of GM- just like many other technology.
    But the way current debate on GM is going, the way some naive ppl/ NGOs distorting issues, the way Indian govt is showing policy paralysis, is bound to hurt not only meaningful debate (focusing on real issues on GM) but also farming- both at farmers level & investment-wise.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 47.

    Just to break up the fight between @Hari and @Jay, and to ignore the Unethical and Immoral comment of #44 and #6, let's just say that an obsession with the monsoon among us Indians is ultra-valid: it is after all the largest annual weather phenomenon on the planet. It makes the country ravishingly beautiful and just to think that it is an effect of the mighty Himalayas. Divine Rain in every sense!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 46.

    @ Hari (43). I'm not refuting any of the issues you mentioned, except your perception on GM.

    The 40% data is a very conservative estimate- "Little India as starved as Ethiopia"- http://is.gd/OVCOh4 (The Telegraph)

    It roughly correlates with poverty, also a contentious issue. But a 2007 study put BPL at ~77%, by Purchase Parity estimate- http://is.gd/e1ojje

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 45.

    @Jay (42)
    There are reported effect of GMO on animal life, but since its bugs we dont care, its ok for some. (http://www.fao.org/docrep/003/X9602E/x9602e07.htm#P0_0) No one is advocating stopping research on GMO, but since its food and how profoundly it 'll affect the entire planet, extreme caution is better than trying to fixing something that goes amuck. Rather have Pandora’s box tightly shut.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 44.

    Backward country, backward people, gran grape the norm including gang rapping daughters, sisters etc, your safer in a lions den........more civilised and respectful for other life and humans

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 43.

    Let me repeat it ad nauseam – there is enough food to feed to every person in India. The food distribution and storage at FCI is badly managed. Add to that the usual suspect of corruption, social class issues & we see why there is malnutrition in India. The primary stat used by WHO for malnutrition is height of the child at 2.14 percentile. Stats show Indian kids are shorter thus 40% is an error

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 42.

    Correction (#41).
    How many names of commercial products, medicine or even basic concepts of science (that were latter proven wrong or 'unsafe' and were withdrawn or modified), do U need to conclude that U don't need research & new technology?

    Safety of GM crop, as technology, is more strictly monitored than any product in human history- agricultural or otherwise without any wrong so far.

 

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