Geography and Climate

To fully understand the nature of agriculture and food production in India, one must be aware of the climatic and geographic factors affecting the country.

India's climate, while quite diverse, can be described generally as violent. Rainfall comes on suddenly with the onset of the monsoon, temperatures can be extreme, and the subcontinent is subject to tropical storms and cyclones. Heavy rains can bring flooding and severe erosion, droughts can sear the land and cause crop failures, and agriculture is dependent on the whims of the monsoon in this mostly tropical country.

The Indian Meteorological Service identifies four seasons in India: the winter (dry and cool) from December to February, the summer (hot and dry) from March through May, the Southwest Monsoon from June through September, and the Northeast Monsoon in October and November.

The monsoon occurs when a massive low pressure zone develops in central Asia, drawing moisture north from the Indian Ocean and onto the Indian subcontinent. The monsoon occurs in two stages: the southwest monsoon and the northeast (or retreating) monsoon. The southwest monsoon is characterized by southwest winds bringing rain to most (roughly 80%) of the country. The northeast monsoon is characterized by northeasterly winds and brings rain to the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka in the southern peninsula. The onset of the southwest monsoon is very abrupt; it "breaks" on the west coast in early June and reaches most of the subcontinent by July. The onset of the northeast monsoon is much more gradual. Heavy rains come with both monsoons. Government planners, meteorologists, and farmers watch the predicted date of onset of the monsoon closely, in order to determine the optimal time to plant crops. Indian agriculture is extremely dependent on the timing and force of the monsoons.

Climate is widely varied across the subcontinent. The Himalayan regions have varied climate by altitude, with mild temperate climate around 2,000 meters, while it is very cold and inhospitable above 4,500 meters and quite warm in the valleys, with significant rainfalls and occasional floods. The low northeastern states of Assam, Meghalaya, and West Bengal are extraordinarily wet, with some of the highest annual rainfall levels in the world. The Indo-Gangetic plain, stretching from Punjab to Assam, experiences wide variations from the very wet east to the dry west. The northern Deccan region in central India receives most of its rain during the monsoon, while the southern Deccan region is in a rain shadow and receives small amounts of rainfall. The western portions of the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Harayana, and Punjab, and the northern part of Jammu and Kashmir, all receive very scant amounts of rainfall and are essentially desert. The southwestern coast and southeastern coasts receive moderate rainfall from the monsoons.

The most heavily populated section of India lies on the flat Indo-Gangetic plain in northern India. This is an enormous drainage basin for the Ganges (or Ganga) river, which stretches out of western Tibet into the Indian state of Utta Ranchal, through Uttar Pradesh, into West Bengal, and then entering the nation of Bangladesh where it splits into a delta and drains into the Bay of Bengal. The huge cities of Delhi and Calcutta are located in this region, as is the most intensive farming in the nation, in fact one of the most intensively farmed zones in the world. While drought can strike the region, irrigation from rivers and wells is available to supplement in times of need.

Northern India's borders with Pakistan, China, Nepal, and Bhutan are comprised of the enormous Himalayan mountains, the highest in the world. These mountains collect much of the rain that does not fall on the lower southern parts of the Indian subcontinent, feeding many of the important rivers of the region.

Management of the major Himalayan-fed rivers that flow through India, Nepal, and Bangladesh is a major issue, and matters of flood control, irrigation, hydroelectric power, and so on are generally handled coöperatively between the countries. However, India and Pakistan have a much less friendly relationship and river management in the disputed states of Punjab and Kashmir are often fuel for conflict.



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