The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has forecast a normal monsoon for 2008. If true, this will be good augury, coming after three successive years when over three-fourths of the country received good rains. A good monsoon will help Indian agriculture sustain the much needed 4 percent growth rate, check the increase in food prices and improve food security for the poor.
However, the way India uses its good monsoons is in need of urgent change. For millennia, the Indian farmer has used the monsoon to raise the main kharif crop with rain water. This is risky, as mid-season or terminal dry-spell during monsoon often results in halving of crop yields. Canal irrigation was thought to be an answer. But even after 200 years of canal building, less than 15 percent of Indian farmlands benefit from canal irrigation. The rest is either rain-fed or supported by some 20 million farmer-owned irrigation wells. In sustaining well irrigation lies the future of Indian farming.