Head Line: India warming: what trends show
1) Mains Paper I: changes in critical geographical features (including water-bodies and ice-caps) and in flora and fauna and the effects of such changes.
Why in news:
- In a statement issued Wednesday, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said 2018 was the sixth warmest year on record, with the average temperature over India being “significantly above normal”.
- Experts say the increase in temperatures is likely to lead to more extreme weather events.
The five warmest years on record:
- The five warmest years on record (nationwide records began in 1901) were, in order: 2016 (+0.720°C above the 1981-2010 average), 2009 (+0.560°C), 2017 (+0.550°C), 2010 (+0.540°C), 2015 (+0.420°C).
- The IMD said that 11 of the 15 warmest years were during the recent past fifteen years (2004-18).
Part of global warming trend:
- The trends of recent years are part of the “global warming” trend.
- The rate of increase of temperatures over India is almost similar to the global average.
- With the increase in temperatures, we expect to experience more and more extreme weather events.
- During 2018, the IMD said the annual mean surface air temperature averaged over the country was +0.410°C above the 1981-2010 average.
- However, this was “substantially lower” than the highest warming observed over India in 2016, which was +0.720°C.
- In November 2018, the World Meteorological Organisation had said the “long-term warming trend” had continued in 2018.
- The 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years, with the top four in the past four years.
Both day, night getting warmer:
- The IMD said Wednesday that the winter and pre-monsoon seasons, with an anomaly of +0.590°C and +0.550°C respectively, “mainly contributed to this warming” seen in 2018.
- “Mean temperature during the monsoon and post-monsoon seasons (with anomaly of +0.260°C, and +0.310°C respectively) were also above normal,” it noted.
- Broadly, temperatures are increasing during both day and night time.
- Heat waves are increasing in frequency as well as magnitude.
- As a consequence, “extreme rainfall and rainstorms which can cause floods are increasing. Dry spell duration is also increasing”.
- According to the IMD, the country-averaged season mean temperatures were also “above average” during all four seasons with winter (January-February, +0.590°C) being the fifth warmest since 1901.
- The pre-monsoon season (March-May, +0.550°C) was the seventh warmest ever since 1901.
- The mean monthly temperatures were warmer than normal during all months of the year across the country, except December with mean temperatures exceeding normal by around 10°C during February and March, the IMD said.
Extreme weather events:
- Apart from the six cyclonic storms that formed over the northern Indian Ocean, India experienced “high impact weather” events, the IMD said.
- These were extremely heavy rainfall, heat and cold waves, snowfall, thunderstorms, dust storms, lightning and floods.
- Uttar Pradesh was the most adversely affected state during the year which reported near 600 deaths due to cold waves, thunderstorm, dust storm, lightning and floods.
- Flood and heavy rain related incidents reportedly claimed over 800 lives from different parts of the country (viz. northern/northeastern, central & peninsular parts) during pre-monsoon, monsoon & post-monsoon seasons,” the IMD said.
- The IMD also pointed to high-velocity dust storms and thunderstorms seen in North India in April and May last year and then, later in June-July.
- Thunderstorm was another major event of the year over the northeastern parts of the country which reportedly claimed 166 lives from Uttar Pradesh (April-May) and 75 from Jharkhand (June-July).
- Dust storm claimed over 150 lives from Uttar Pradesh (92 lives, 2-6 May) and adjoining parts of Rajasthan (68 Lives, April-May).
Cyclones occurred in 2018:
- Titli, which formed over the East Central Bay of Bengal on October 8 and crossed the Odisha coast three days later, claimed over 70 lives in coastal districts of the state.
- Gaja, which claimed 40 lives, formed over the East Central Bay on November 10, crossed the Tamil Nadu coast on November 15 and after moving across the peninsula, re-emerged into Arabian Sea as a deep depression.
- The last cyclonic storm of the year, Phethai, which formed over South East Bay of Bengal on December 13, crossed the Andhra Pradesh coast four days later, the IMD said.
Monsoon rainfall trends:
- While the rainfall over India as a whole during the southwest monsoon season of June to September was near normal — 90.6% of Long Period (1951-2000) Average — the northeast monsoon season rainfall was substantially below normal (56% of LPA), the IMD said. The latter was the sixth lowest since 1901.
- “The seasonal rainfall during the northeast monsoon season over the core region of the south peninsula (comprising five subdivisions viz. Coastal Andhra Pradesh, Rayalaseema, Tamil Nadu & Puducherry, South Interior Karnataka and Kerala), was also below average (66% of LPA).
- Out of these five subdivisions, one subdivision, Kerala, received normal rainfall; the other four subdivisions received deficient rainfall,” the IMD said.
Head Line: Skill deficit
2) Mains Paper II: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.
- Like its previous editions, the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2018 raises several worrying questions.
- The report prepared by the NGO Pratham shows that poor learning outcomes remain the Achilles’ heel of the country’s primary and secondary education system.
Findings of ASER Report:
- Only 50 per cent of students in Class V can read a Class II-level text, reveals the study that was released on Tuesday.
- School-going children are also struggling with basic arithmetic skills.
- More than 56 per cent of children enrolled in Class VIII cannot solve a three-digit by one-digit division problem correctly.
Positive outcomes of the study:
- The report card on foundational skills, though dismal, shows marginal improvement over ASER’s evaluation in 2012.
- The proportion of students in Class VIII who can read a Class II text has increased by a little more than 3 per cent from that in 2012.
- The proportion of children in Class V who can do basic division has gone up from 24.9 per cent in 2012 to 27.9 per cent in 2018.
- A noteworthy aspect about these factoids is that government schools have been the harbinger of change.
- It’s even more heartening that in this respect, states hitherto considered as outliers in educational accomplishment, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh for example, have not lagged behind the more advanced states like Kerala and Karnataka.
Concerns raised by the report:
- Though the declining trend in learning outcomes of government schools seems to have been arrested and even reversed, it’s important to remember that we are talking about foundational abilities.
- Nevertheless, the salience of state-run or funded schools in improving learning outcomes cannot be overstated.
- As the ASER study itself points out, about 70 per cent of school-going children in rural India attend a government-run school.
- It points out that one out of four children in rural India leaves Class VIII without basic reading skills and over half of them cannot solve a basic division problem.
- However, the government cannot afford to look at education as business-as-usual.
- It’s high time that the government joins the dots between the predicaments it faces in the economy and the malaise in the educational sector.
Head Line: Addressing agrarian distress: An alternative ‘area planning’ price support scheme for farmers
3) Mains Paper III: Major crops-cropping patterns in various parts of the country, - different types of irrigation and irrigation systems storage, transport and marketing of agricultural produce and issues and related constraints.
- Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support prices.
- Farmers are always in distress when prices of their produce are subdued.
- The response of governments, obviously prompted by political pressures, has been to sharply hike minimum support prices (MSP) of crops or declare loan waivers.
- Thus, the current government at the Centre has significantly raised the MSPs of both the kharif and rabi crops for 2018-19, while claiming to have implemented the ruling party’s 2014 election promise of pegging these at 1.5 times the estimated production costs of farmers.
- Some like Telangana, Jharkhand and Odisha have announced flat annual assistance to farmers, either on a per-acre or per-family/household basis.
Do such steps addresses the agrarian distress:
- None of these quick-fix solutions to address agrarian distress have really worked on the ground.
- Even if they have — such as Telangana’s Rythu Bandhu per-acre assistance scheme — the fiscal costs make them difficult to sustain in the long run.
- MSPs and loan waivers, on the other hand, haven’t probably even achieved their political objectives.
- Loan waiver implementation, likewise, has seen much less-than-expected coverage of farmers, besides restrictions on the write-off amounts (not more than Rs 1-2 lakh) and the institutions to whom credit is outstanding (mostly cooperative banks).
- Higher MSPs have little meaning when market supply-and-demand conditions and lack of government procurement do not allow for their effective enforcement.
Procurement by government and problems associated with it:
- The Food Corporation of India (FCI) undertakes paddy and wheat procurement, with the share of these to the output of the two cereals amounting to 33.8 per cent and 35.90 per cent, respectively, in 2017-18.
- In the last couple of years, there has been procurement of pulses and oilseeds as well under the Centre’s Price Support Scheme (PSS) through agencies such as the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation.
- Last year, a record 4.5 million tonnes of pulses, accounting for 17.8 per cent of the country’s production, got procured.
- Such purchases, however, have their limitations, which are both fiscal and market-related.
- Large-scale procurement leads to massive accumulation of stocks with government agencies.
- That, in turn, puts further downward pressure on prices, as the private trade stops buying in the belief that the agencies will have no option but to offload these in the market.
- It forces further governmental procurement to support farmers, setting off a vicious cycle.
- We have seen this in rice and wheat — and now also in arhar/tur, chana, groundnut and rapeseed-mustard.
- The Shanta Kumar High Level Committee for Restructuring of FCI had, in fact, recommended limiting MSP-based procurement of cereals, but government agencies continue buying paddy and wheat without any cap for individual farmers.
- Only under PSS, a 25 quintals-per-farmer per day ceiling has been fixed for availing MSP-based procurement support.
What could be alternative solution:
- It is clear, then, that a completely new approach for price support is required, especially in today’s scenario where India has moved from a structurally deficit to surplus producer in most agri-commodities.
- The alternative mechanism could be that of “area planning” adopted by countries such as the US, the UK and Australia.
Area Planning in other countries:
- In the UK, all farmers owning more than five hectares have to obtain approval for use of their land for not just crop cultivation, but even for erecting buildings or carrying out excavations and engineering operations for allied agricultural activities.
- The US and Australia have zoning regulations that also seek to align crop production to domestic, industrial and export demand.
- Subsidies, too, are linked to farmers allocating defined areas under particular crops.
Area Planning in India:
- In India, the Sugarcane Control Order actually has a provision to fix the quantity of crop any grower can cultivate for supplying to a mill for which that cane area is “reserved”.
- The grower is entitled to the government mandated price only for that reserved quantity of cane supplied.
- This model, although not strictly enforced in sugarcane itself, can be extended to other crops.
What we need really is to go one step further:
- It should be possible to make national-level estimates of demand for various agricultural commodities well ahead of every cropping season.
- This demand, factoring in both domestic consumption and global export-import projections, can then be divided among major producing states in proportion to their respective five-year-average output/acreage levels.
- The states can further sub-divide their demand allocations at regional and district levels.
- Based on the demand estimates, the state agriculture and horticulture departments can register individual farmers’ area under different crops before the sowing season.
- Only the crops grown on such registered areas can be entitled to MSP procurement benefits. Any excess production will have to be sold by farmers at the going market rates.
Benefits of Area Planning approach:
- Farmers themselves — based on responses received during a 2017 survey conducted by the author in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh — seem quite open to the idea.
- They are more exposed to price volatility from supply-demand mismatches than economists.
- Planning of area under individual crops, keeping in view likely supply-demand scenarios, will not only help check undue price volatility, but also promote optimal utilisation of scare resources such as fertilisers and water.
- The time has definitely come to regulate the area planted to crops such as sugarcane.
What needs to be done for implementation of Area planning:
- First and foremost, publicising the idea and assuring procurement/MSP support for the produce of farmers whose individual areas are registered ahead of the planting season.
- Secondly, the government — maybe, the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices — should come out with credible forecasts of domestic consumption, industrial and export demand for every crop.
- The government should stop obsessing about increasing production of every crop by 5-10 per cent each year.
Head Line: Policy must tackle not just dissatisfaction of large farmers, but distress of most vulnerable
4) Mains Paper III: transport and marketing of agricultural produce and issues and related constraints; Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support prices.
- Recently, the two main policy interventions repeatedly discussed to tackle farmer distress — loan waivers and minimum support prices (MSP) — treat all farmers (large/small, male/female) alike.
- But farmers are heterogeneous. They differ especially by income, land owned and gender.
- Better-off farmers are dissatisfied but politically vocal.
- Poor farmers are distressed and many kill themselves in silence.
- It is the truly distressed the government need to reach, but their policies only address the dissatisfied.
How Government policy failed to address agricultural distress:
Farm Loan Waiver scheme:
- Today, most economists agree that waivers are a bad idea. They deplete state finances, undermine bank culture, and barely reach 20-25 per cent farmers who have access to institutional credit, but not the marginal farmers or labourers who depend on moneylenders, or get no credit at all.
- Having a bank debt is not, in itself, a sign of distress.
- Farming, like other businesses, needs loans, and access to formal credit signifies credit worthiness.
- It is the marginal and small farmers who depend mainly on private lenders, and whose loans don’t get waived, who are in distress.
- Raising MSPs will help surplus producing farmers, but not net buyers of farm produce — marginal farmers, farm labourers and urban consumers.
- A 2015 IIM-A report on Marketed and Marketable Surplus found that marginal farmers (up to one hectare land) contributed only 5 per cent of marketed surplus rice and 4 per cent of wheat, even in the major rice and wheat surplus states.
- And they sold only 39 per cent and 25 per cent of their marketed rice and wheat to government agencies, compared with the 70 per cent and 90 per cent sold by large farmers.
- Further, the Shanta Kumar Committee reports that only 6 per cent of farmers gained from selling these crops to any procurement agency.
Policy of direct transfers to farmers:
- The policy of direct transfers to farmers also ignores the inequality between farmers.
- Telangana gave Rs 9,900/ha/season to all landowning farmers. Hence, the very large landowners gained — not only from owning large tracts, but in both seasons, since with irrigation they can cultivate in both kharif and rabi seasons; while pure-tenants and labourers got nothing.
- Nor did women farmers get anything, few of whom own land.
- Odisha recently announced that it will pay both farmers and labourers, but like Telangana, it will pay per household and not per person.
- Both states thus ignore women’s claims, and also the substantial evidence that it is income in a mother’s hands that greatly improves child nutrition and education, rather than income only in the father’s hands.
- Neither state has recognised intra-household inequalities, or paid heed to the large proportion of women farmers who are either principal cultivators or de-facto responsible for farms with male out-migration.
How to address small & marginal Farmers distress?
A multi-pronged strategy of income support, government investment, and institutional innovations, and not a one-size-fits-all approach is need of the hour.
- Direct transfer for small farmers:
- To overcome immediate distress, direct transfers are preferable to loan waivers, but transfers should be limited to smallholders (those owning 2 ha or less), pure-tenants and agricultural labourers. The funds should go to women in the family for best results.
- Investment in Agriculture:
- To reduce the long-term distress of poor farmers, agricultural investment in priority areas is imperative such as irrigation, water conservation, and storage for surplus produce.
- Even 70 years after Independence, only 44 per cent of our irrigable area is irrigated. This must increase, but not via groundwater mining, which is unsustainable.
- Water use efficiency by farmers is also essential:
- Low-cost techniques of drip irrigation could be one method.
- Land and labour pooling:
- Some 70 per cent of farmers cultivate one hectare or less, in scattered plots which is non-viable. In a recent study, it was found that as farm size in India increases from very small to eight ha, profits/ha rise substantially. Therefore, we must encourage land and labour pooling.
- Institutional reform has long been a blind spot in India’s farm policy. Groups help increase farm size, brought scale economies, saved on hired labour, improved credit access and enhanced bargaining power in input and output markets. Groups can also reduce farmer isolation and the likelihood of suicides.
- Dietary changes require more focus on non-food-grains for food security, including vegetables which are more profitable and inland fisheries, a key source of protein.
- Both to overcome farmer distress and farmer dissatisfaction, creating jobs for farmers’ children in their vicinity, not in cities, is essential, through ancillary industries, food processing, SMEs, and so on.
- This would provide much needed supplementary income for farmers in distress. Doubling farmers’ incomes does not need doubling farm incomes.
It needs increasing their incomes from both farm and non-farm sources.