The El-Nino shadow over Indian agriculture

The federal government is worried as effectively. The finance ministry’s newest month-to-month assessment of the economic system flagged the El Niño danger, declaring: “It will be significant…to be vigilant in opposition to potential dangers akin to El Niño circumstances creating drought circumstances and reducing agricultural output and elevating costs, geopolitical developments and international monetary stability.”

If an El Niño does happen later within the 12 months, as even meteorologists elsewhere on this planet predict, it might finish the run of excellent monsoons within the final 4 years, although this isn’t sure. India has had good monsoons even in El Niño years, and poor rainfall in years when the El Niño was not prevalent (Chart 1).

Graphic: Mint

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Graphic: Mint

However the phenomenon is robust sufficient and its potential financial results severe sufficient for meteorologists the world over to observe its progress carefully. If an El Niño does materialize, what can we anticipate for the Indian economic system within the 12 months forward?

Little Boy

The El Niño (Spanish for ‘little boy’) refers to shifts in climate circumstances between the jap Pacific Ocean close to the coast of South America, and the western Pacific close to Australia and Indonesia. In a ‘regular’ 12 months, an space of excessive strain develops on the western finish of the Pacific Ocean, and a low strain over the jap Pacific. This pushes sturdy winds (the so-called ‘commerce winds’) eastward in direction of the coasts of Indonesia and Australia, taking heat water with it, and inflicting rains close to these nations.

These climate circumstances can enhance, or worsen, the Indian monsoon as effectively. If the strain distinction between the jap and western pacific will increase, the Indian monsoon can grow to be wetter than regular, because the commerce winds are stronger—a phenomenon often called the La Nina. That is what now we have seen within the final three to 4 years.

The El Niño happens when this strain distinction weakens. On this case, the low strain strikes away from Indonesia and again in direction of the jap Pacific, slowing the commerce winds and inflicting weaker rainfall, and presumably even drought throughout Australia and Asia.

Whereas it’s not sure that an El Niño 12 months could cause monsoon rainfall to fall significantly wanting regular, the hyperlink is robust sufficient. An ICRIER working paper by Shweta Saini and Ashok Gulati in 2014 discovered that from the Nineteen Fifties until 2013, there have been 14 drought years, of which 11 occurred in El Niño years.

However of the 23 El Niño years in that interval, solely 11 years resulted in drought. “Due to this fact, it is rather clear that not all El Niño years transformed into droughts for India and never all (however most) Indian droughts occurred in El Niño years,” the authors concluded. Nonetheless, the authors additionally discovered that each one six drought years after 1980 occurred in El Niño years. Curiously, probably the most excessive El Niño 12 months ever, in 1997, was a 12 months when the Indian monsoon was regular, regardless of dire predictions on the contrary.

The lower than excellent cause-and-effect relationship between El Niño years and drought in India are on account of a spread of different climate patterns which might generally work to offset the consequences of an El Niño. For example, much like the El Niño sample, there are various variations between the ocean floor temperature and air strain over the western and jap Indian Ocean. Shifts in these strain and temperature variations throughout the Indian Ocean can work to offset, or reinforce, the impact of the El Niño on the Indian monsoon.

Drought or not, common rainfall is decrease in an El Niño 12 months. As Chart 2 exhibits, agricultural GVA (gross worth added) is, as anticipated, extremely correlated with the extent to which the precise rainfall in any given 12 months falls above or under the long-term common.

What’s the influence on GDP? An IMF working paper by Paul Cashin, Kamiar Mohaddes and Mehdi Raissi in 2015 seemed on the macroeconomic influence of El Niño around the globe. For India, they discovered that an El Niño occasion causes GDP to contract by 0.15 proportion factors within the first quarter after the occasion, with that influence rising to a cumulative quantity of 0.25 proportion factors a 12 months later.

“The detrimental impact of El Niño is moderately muted in India, on account of quite a few mitigating elements,” the authors discovered. Amongst them had been the declining share of agriculture in India’s GVA, and an rising share of Rabi (winter) crops in agricultural output. “Furthermore, on account of extra developed agricultural markets and insurance policies, rising agriculture yield, and climatological early warning techniques, farmers are higher in a position to change to extra drought-resistant and short-duration crops (with authorities help), at fairly brief discover,” the authors famous.

Complicating the Image

However this evaluation is optimistic. For example, the examine factors out that an El Niño, by inflicting extra droughts and better temperatures, will increase the demand for each gas and non-fuel commodities, inflicting a spike in commodity costs. The authors discovered that an El Niño occasion causes oil costs to rise by 13.9% over the next 4 quarters, and non-fuel commodities to rise in worth by 5.3% over the identical interval. Thus, this filters by into inflation as effectively, with the cumulative improve in inflation being estimated at round 0.6 proportion factors after 4 quarters.

Additional, whereas the authors of the IMF paper level to the lowering share of agriculture in general GDP as an indicator that the El Niño influence could also be extra muted, the broader influence of weak rainfall or drought on the agricultural economic system and rural employment are nonetheless advanced and might be far-reaching.

That is very true post-covid, provided that the proportion of the labour pressure in agriculture really rose from 42.5% in 2018-19 to 45.5% in 2021-22, reversing a development of motion of labour out of agriculture over the earlier decade. Thus, developments within the agricultural economic system have grow to be extra essential, not much less, in the previous few years.

Over the past El Niño episode between 2014 and 2016, agricultural development slowed to lower than 1%, however rural wages endured a way more extended flattening out in actual phrases. Even when agricultural development improved after 2016, rural wages, after being adjusted for inflation, remained subdued, in line with a 2019 RBI paper titled ‘Rural Wage Dynamics in India: What Function does Inflation Play?’

General development in agricultural wages for males, amongst totally different classes of labour, assorted from 0% to round 6% between November 2014 and November 2022 (the exception being horticultural staff, for whom rose by about 11%). Outdoors of agriculture, within the essential sector of rural building, which has acted as a significant employer during the last decade, wages for males really fell in actual phrases by about two proportion factors.

Whereas a part of the rationale for the weak point in rural wages could should do with elements apart from weak rainfall (for instance, demonetization), the online impact is that the El Niño, if it does occur, will happen at a very susceptible time for the agricultural economic system.

There are different indicators that the agricultural economic system isn’t doing effectively. In December, as an example, market analysis agency Nielsen IQ pointed to a pointy disparity between FMCG rural and concrete markets for the quarter of September 2022. Whereas city markets had been rising, rural markets had been really declining. In truth, the one approach that FMCG firms have really seen development of their topline is by climbing costs—quantity development between the latter a part of 2021 and late 2022 was detrimental for rural areas, although it noticed a small improve in city areas.

The auto sector is one other indicator. Reviewing automobile gross sales for the final quarter of 2022-23, the Federation of Vehicle Sellers Associations (FADA) famous that each one classes of autos noticed double-digit development in gross sales aside from tractors. For March, two-wheeler gross sales, FADA famous, h
ad been optimistic. Nonetheless, it mentioned, “Though the two-wheeler phase demonstrated year-on-year development, it stays considerably under pre-pandemic ranges, indicating that rural India remains to be bearing the burden of excessive inflationary prices.” By the way, FADA additionally famous that, “for the third consecutive month, US Authorities companies have warned of the potential of El Niño’s arrival later this 12 months, which might result in poor monsoons, hampering rural India’s development potential.”

Local weather Change

The hyperlink between Indian agriculture and the El Niño is an previous one. The geographer Mike Davis, in his guide Late Victorian Holocausts, describes in vivid element how a collection of devastating famines adopted El Niño occasions within the late nineteenth century in India and the world over, and left tens of millions lifeless.

What of the longer term? Within the years forward, the complicating issue is, after all, local weather change. Will El Niño years grow to be extra frequent or much less?

A scientific report revealed in Nature in 2016 by Sarita Azad and M Rajeevan means that we might see extra frequent El Niño occasions sooner or later. Additional, mannequin simulations recommend that “extra frequent El Niño occasions might set off extra droughts over India”.

The headline impact of such droughts on agricultural manufacturing is, after all, severe sufficient. However such occasions might additionally set off far-reaching shifts within the rural economic system. For example, in a paper on the consequences of drought on agricultural labour by women and men, Farzana Afridi and co-authors discovered that after a drought, rural ladies are 7.1% much less more likely to be employed than males, however 80% extra more likely to search work. Girls noticed a 19 proportion level better discount in working days than males in a drought 12 months.

On the identical time, whereas males are higher in a position to substitute work misplaced on the farm with work off it, in rural areas, ladies on the entire are a lot much less in a position to make that change. “Therefore, whereas males diversify to non-farm sector jobs to deal with droughts, ladies don’t, at the same time as they search work and their actual farm wage earnings (conditional on being employed on the farm) fall by 38.1%,” the authors say.

Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, director basic of the IMD, advised Mint in an interview lately that the influence of the El Niño on this 12 months’s monsoon is more likely to be minimal—the IMD is for now sticking to its forecast of a traditional monsoon. If that occurs, that’s excellent news. However, even when the Indian monsoon goes off effectively and agricultural development is robust, that’s little assure that El Niño received’t be again in future years, or that its results on Indian agriculture and society received’t be extra far-reaching. is a search engine for public knowledge.

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Up to date: 05 Could 2023, 12:51 AM IST