Chasing the monsoonWe should build knowledge of changing climatic patterns and help farmers adapt to the changes
The South Asian Climate Outlook Forum (Sascof) last month released a consensus statement signalling that Nepal is expected to see normal rains this monsoon. In a country where the farm sector makes up about 33 percent of economy and where approximately two-thirds of the cultivable land is rain-fed, forecasts of a ‘normal’ monsoon bring relief. Good monsoon patterns have led to an increase in agricultural output, putting a 23-year-high economic growth rate of 6.9 percent within reach this fiscal year. Given the continuing positive forecasts, a boost to the farm sector—and consequently to the economy—in the next fiscal year can also be expected.
The average monsoon rainfall this fiscal year has been the best in the last eight years, according to the Agriculture Ministry. Paddy production has jumped by 21.66 percent to 5.23 million tonnes this fiscal year, and the country is also expected to see a fair growth in the production of wheat, with 8 percent increase to 1.87 million tonnes. These figures are promising after two consecutive years of falling paddy harvests, and a plunge in wheat output by 12.1 percent to a six-year low of 1.73 million tonnes in the last fiscal year. Considering that wheat, rice and maize are the most produced cereal crops in Nepal, their increased production bodes well for agricultural output.
But while Nepal is riding high on the crest of a ‘normal’ monsoon and its subsequent agricultural yield, we cannot afford to ignore increasingly erratic climatic patterns. Climatic movements that influence monsoon such as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) have been relatively benign this year, but weather phenomena are constantly changing. Monsoon patterns over Nepal are experiencing a temporal shift, with a change in both the onset and the close of the monsoon season. According to the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology, this change in patterns has been evident since the mid-1990s. The resultant extreme events such as heavy rainfall or drought have in the past wreaked havoc on crop plantation, maturation and harvest.
The effects of an erratic climate were felt just last year, when summer and winter crop productions were hugely affected by droughts, and Nepal’s food grain production dropped seven percent to 8.61 million tonnes. Because of inadequate irrigation infrastructure, our farm practices are still highly dependent on rains. So unless our understanding of changing climatic patterns is strengthened and farmers are equipped to adapt to the changes, they will continue to be under stress and our agricultural sector will remain at the mercy of the heavens.