Less rain may impact farming in northeast India

Agartala/Guwahati, Oct 23 (IANS) India's northeastern region, where the economy is mainly based on agriculture, has witnessed around 40 percent deficit rainfall during the current monsoon season, threatening farming and water availability, said experts.

According to agricultural scientists and experts, the monsoon rainfall this year was unfavourable to the farming of crops in the mountainous region.

Meteorologists said during the current monsoon season (June to September), Manipur experienced the maximum deficiency of rainfall with 70 percent followed by Meghalaya (50 percent), Nagaland (40 percent), Mizoram (34 percent), Arunachal Pradesh (31 percent), Assam (25 percent) and Tripura (24 percent).

"Lesser number of depressions this season was the key reason for the shortage of rainfall in the monsoon period. Those depressions caused in the Bay of Bengal moved to Odisha, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh due to upper wind patterns," Dilip Saha, meteorological department director in Tripura, told IANS.

He said: "Compared to last year, there were very less number of low pressures generated this year. Whatever depressions and clouds formed in the Bay of Bengal (this year), very few of them moved to this hilly northeastern region."

According to meteorologists, the southwest monsoon withdrew from the northeastern region Oct 21 with some days' delay this year. The southwest monsoon had withdrawn from the region Oct 16 last year and Oct 13 in 2011.

According to the regional meteorological centre in Guwahati, the number of monsoon rainfall deficient years in the northeast India has been increasing since 2001.

The Arunachal Pradesh meteorological sub-division has since 2001 recorded five monsoon rainfall-deficient years, while the Assam-Meghalaya meteorological sub-division recorded six monsoon rainfall-deficient years and the Nagaland-Manipur-Mizoram-Tripura meteorological sub-divisions recorded four monsoon rainfall- deficient years.

According to agricultural experts, less rainfall during monsoon affects the seasonal cultivation while heavy rainfall during the post monsoon period affects vegetable farming and horticultural crops.

Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) scientist Mrinmoy Datta said the monsoon this year was not favourable for agriculture of the northeastern region as a whole.

"However, for one or two states like Tripura and Assam, the shortage of the monsoon rainfall would not affect so massively. We expect winter crop and vegetables would be better in the region this year...," Datta told IANS.

As only a small percentage of the state's cultivable farm land has access to irrigation facility, cultivators' organisation in Assam this year raised an apprehension over the shortage of rainfall situation and urged the state government to undertake emergency remedial measures to tackle the possible 'drought like situation'.

According to Assam agriculture department officials, 17 of 27 districts had deficient rainfall, affecting paddy cultivation.

"It is good that there was no major flood havoc this year in Assam, but deficit rainfall might affect the seasonal rice productions and vegetable cultivation. The Assam government must ensure a reasonable quantum of irrigation to maintain its annual crop productions," agricultural expert Hemanta Bora told IANS.

Sohra, one of the wettest places in the world and previously known as Cherrapunji, in southern Meghalaya, has also suffered a rain deficit of 15 to 16 percent during the monsoon, with only 3,749 mm of rain recorded, as opposed to the normal of 4,455 mm.

However, with the rainfall situation showing signs of improvement after the monsoon season, the crop production might not affect so alarmingly as was apprehended earlier.

In Tripura, around one-third of the 308,501 hectare cultivable farm lands so far came under irrigation, resulting in the dependence of the majority of cultivable land on rain water.

Agricultural expert Baharul Islam Majumder said that insufficiency of monsoon rainfall would affect the northeast on a state-to-state basis.

"As the rainfall during monsoon varies from state to state in the region, the effects would also be differential. However, after the monsoon any major rain might affect the winter crops, vegetables and horticultural harvest," Majumder told IANS.

In the mountainous northeastern region, except Assam, other states have mostly hilly areas where extension of irrigation facilities is very complex.

A large number of families among the tribals practises 'jhum', or the slash and burn method of cultivation. This shifting form of farming usually involves cutting down of entire forests in the hills, allowing the slashed vegetation to dry on hilly slopes prior to burning. Rice is intercropped with vegetables, maize, cotton, mustard and so on.

Tribals constitute 27 percent of the northeastern region's 45.58 million people.

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