India has a population of more than one billion people in a land one-half the size of the United States, and the population of India is expected to double every thirty-six years. With an already large population slated to only get larger, India is forced to devote more and more land to people and less and less land to the production of agriculture. With a diminishing supply of farm land, India must take steps to get the most out of each acre of farm land. However, even with specialized farming techniques and crops chosen to give the largest yield, the farmers of India are still relying on an unpredictable force of nature to irrigate their fields; the summer monsoons are the driving force of India’s agriculture and can make the difference between healthy citizens and widespread starvation.
The word monsoon stands for seasonal wind shift, but the summer monsoons are more than just heavy winds. The hot land mass on the Russian side of the Himalayas causes a low pressure system which sucks air over the Himalayas from the Indian Ocean. As the warm wet air from the ocean is pulled over the tallest mountains in the world, the air cools and releases its moisture in the form of rain. The four months of India’s monsoons account for 80 percent of India’s rainfall. The four months of wet and rain create a perfect environment to grow rice which is a staple of the Indian diet. And according to George Hepner and Jesse McKee, “Throughout most of South Asia the rhythm of agricultural life and success of harvests are tied to the onset of the summer monsoon… (Hepner and McKee 584).”
Even though the monsoons are a very important part of India’s agricultural cycle, there some drawbacks to relying on this type of weather event for irrigation. Monsoons are not very predictable and although there is a way to predict when the monsoons are going to start, they cannot predict more than a few days in advance (Hepner and McKee 588). Therefore, farmers are left to guess when to plant their crops. According to Hepner and McKee, “When the rains are late or inadequate… famine results…” (Hepner and McKee 584). Similarly, if the monsoons start too soon, seedlings can rot in the wet fields (Hepner and Mckee 588). The amount of rain produced by each monsoon is not regular some areas can get too much rain while others get too little, or the monsoons can produce too much rain all around. According to Hepner and McKee, “Where the monsoons strike with unusual intensity, however, rains may destroy crops and cause widespread flooding” (Hepner and McKee 584). Especially in these times of too much rain, the low level of ground cover due to overpopulation causes problems with erosion and landslides. But on good years and with adequate storage of excess floodwaters India can have up to three harvests per year.
Even with the unpredictable nature of the monsoons, India has been able to use these seasonal rains to create one of the largest populations in the world in a region of the world would otherwise be a very harsh and forbidding environment. If the people of this dialectic land of feast and famine are not careful, their ever increasing population will lead them to a famine that no amount of monsoonal rains can save them from.
Hepner, George F., and Jesse O. McKee. World Regional Geography: A Global Approach. St. Paul: West, 1992.