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Heavy rains, flooding threaten kharif crops; food prices may rise

Moisture-propelling weather patterns across India have re-activated the monsoon system again, flooding several states and threatening key summer-sown or kharif crops, including onion, a widely consumed price-sensitive food item.

A cyclonic circulation over the Bay of Bengal, dumping heavy rainfall in West Bengal, moisture drafts due to a low-pressure formation over northern states and a rainy trail across Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Odisha has flooded large parts of several states, endangering crops.

Rice fields in many districts of the food bowl states of Punjab, Haryana and parts of Uttar Pradesh have gone underwater, growers said, while Delhi witnessed historic rains Saturday.

A monsoon going into a hyperactive mode in a month when it should begin tapering off could bring misery to the farm sector, which supports half of India’s population.

The India Meteorological Department, the national weather agency, said there could be “damage to horticulture and standing crops in some areas due to inundation” in an alert on Saturday.

After hampering sowing of summer-sown crops such as soybean, rice, cotton and vegetables due to a long dry spell from mid-June to mid-July, flooding has now affected crops in states like Uttarakhand, parts of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh.

Lower yields or output can stoke food prices, as job cuts post-Covid has impacted nearly one million Indians, according to data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, a private data firm.

“Onions, a staple in most Indian households, are likely to make consumers cry again with erratic monsoon leading to an eventual delay in harvest,” Crisil Ltd, a rating firm, said in a research note Saturday.

Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh are the major onion-producing states, accounting for over 75% of total summer onion output.

Although harvest time is a month away, Crisil Ltd’s “on-ground report” said onion seed transplantation suffered critical lags due to on-off rains, potentially delaying the time onion crop takes to mature.

Summer onions account for no more than 30% of India’s annual supply, but they are critical to prices stability because they replenish supply during the lean September-November, period.

Experts hold that longer dry spells followed by short periods of heavy rainfall are tell-tale signs of a changing climate’s impact on the monsoon, which waters 60% of the country’s net-sown area.

“If heavy rainfall persists, yields may be affected, although mild rainfall in September is beneficial,” said Ashok Renjen, a former agronomist with the Punjab agriculture department.

The IMD on Saturday forecast predicted “fairly widespread” rainfall with “isolated heavy to very heavy falls”, which correlates to hazardous rainfall in many states until September 14, especially in parts of Konkan and Goa, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha.

While rice planting stood at normal levels for the current week, at 106 million hectares, farmers have sown oilseeds over 17 million hectares, which is also considered normal, according to official data. Pulses, another essential basket of legumes, have been sown over 13.9 million hectares, marginally higher than normal.

“Standing water could cause crops to wilt,” said Gambhir Singh, a farmer from Haryana’s Babbain region, speaking in Hindi.

Desk Team