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Are the monsoon numbers misleading?
Wed, 30 Jul Pre-Open

"Monsoon expected to be normal, no need for alarm". Reads the headlines of few news dailies! But this might convince the readers and the analysts who bother to predict monsoons but for the sons of the soil, it is ineffectual! The very survival of the farmers is at the vagaries of the monsoons. And the erratic nature of rainfall in the recent periods has only exasperated their woes. Not just that! The monsoon number data that is released by the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) on regular occasions barely connects to the reality. So are these numbers misleading?

Most likely, we believe. Consider this. The IMD reports a country-wide area average figure for the entire monsoon season. For instance, currently, this number is 31%. This average number suggests that the monsoon is not all that bad and might improve going forward. The fact that below 20% threshold limit is considered to be a drought-like situation, 31% indicates a fairly good state. While this theory sounds convincing enough, it's a mere mirage. A rosy picture with no sanctity!

There are many instances of IMD getting it all wrong. The poor accuracy of the department's long-term forecasts in the past is no news. IMD has erred in its projections quite good number of times. And this isn't quite surprising. Why? Get this. Essentially, the IMD formulates law of averages to predict the monsoon forecasts. But this means very little to the farmers. That's because the ecology of various regions differs. So also the pattern of rainfall requirement varies from crop to crop. For a farmer, the rain spread over the monsoon period is critical. For instance, a heavy downpour at the later stage of plant growth can be only catastrophic. Also, what the farmer grows and how they grow differs. Therefore, applying mathematical expressions in predicting rainfalls makes no logical sense to the farmer. All he does his predicting the rainfall in his own capacity in a short-time period and make his moves. In fact, that's where the IMD comes to their rescue. But again as mentioned earlier, this data releases and their predictions indeed turn out to be pipe dreams for the farmers. One countrywide average number can by no means help the farmers understand the weather patterns and decide their sowing periods. What more? The credibility of the IMD predictions has been eroding largely also because they have repeatedly failed to warn against droughts.

Well, there is dire need for a reliable rainfall prediction that is vital not only for agriculture but also for various other purposes, including irrigation, reservoir management, flood control, navigation, power generation and the like. But alas! Despite the modern technology and the frequent revamp of prediction models, IMD continues to flounder and fails to keep up the good work. It's more than a decade old story. Indeed a serious matter! We certainly hope the Ministry is all ears to this reality and rises to the predicament of the sons of the soil.

Do you think the poor prediction of rainfall can adversely affect farmers? Do share your views on the Equitymaster Club.

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