Centre advises states to be prepared for erratic monsoon rains

The Centre has directed state governments to be "fully geared" up to meet any eventuality of erratic rains following reports that the El Nino weather pattern would affect the monsoon this year.

The southwest monsoon, the lifeline of Indian agriculture, starts in June and its progress triggers sowing of kharif crops. Farmers depend on monsoon rain as 55 per cent of agricultural land does not have irrigation facilities.

"In view of indications of erratic rainfall during the ensuing monsoon season, Agriculture Secretary Ashish Bahuguna advised states to be fully geared up to meet any eventuality of erratic monsoon rains," according to an official statement.

Bahuguna spoke after a two-day conference that discussed preparedness for the forthcoming kharif (summer) sowing.

He said the contingency plans, already prepared for over 500 districts, will provide the first point of reference for checking actions that need to be taken.

Action at the local level will be fine-tuned with inputs from scientists from Indian Council for Agricultural Research institutes, agricultural universities and Krishi Vighyan Kendras, he added.

"Karnataka, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra that have higher frequency of drought need to be prepared with sufficient seed of short-duration varieties of kharif crops," Agriculture Commissioner J S Sandhu said at the conference.

The Indian Meteorological Department is likely to come out with its monsoon forecast in mid-April and the impact of El Nino may not be as severe as it was in 2009, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar had said on the sidelines of the inaugural session of the conference.

El Nino refers to the warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific. This condition occurs every four to 12 years. It last hit India's monsoon in 2009, causing the worst drought in almost four decades.

Warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean is likely in the coming months, with international climate models showing temperatures approaching or exceeding El Nino thresholds, Australia's Bureau of Meteorology said in a statement on its website on February 25.

The conference, attended by state agriculture officials and scientists, decided to focus on ensuring timely availability of fertilisers and quality seed and credit to farmers in the forthcoming kharif season.

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