With unseasonal rain and hailstorms set to damage crops across large parts of the country once again, your food bills are likely to see a sharp upward spike.

Even as Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan on Friday expressed caution once again about rising food inflation, the Indian Meteorological Department has warned of yet another bout of unseasonal rain from the middle of April that is likely to hit food production even further.

The Indian Meteorological Department announced on Thursday that another round of unseasonal thunderstorms and hail from April 11 is likely to lay waste to crops still standing in large parts of central India. The rain will sweep across parts of Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha and Telangana by the middle of the month and move on to Bihar and the north-east later.

This comes even as the region attempts to recover from another bout of unseasonal rain in February and March that had already devastated crops across the country and a severe drought like condition in the monsoon before this.

There might not be very much left to damage with this round of unseasonal weather. Most Rabi crops that survived the last round of unseasonal rain have already been harvested. Even so, the Meteorological Department has warned of damage to young fruit plants including bananas, vegetables, and to wheat sown late in the season.

A day after the announcement, Rajan said that the bank could not control food inflation. He said however, that wage inflation should be kept in check keeping in mind higher prices.

This is the second time in a week that Rajan has mentioned his concern about food inflation. On Tuesday, citing uncertainty on food inflation, he decided to maintain the cash reserve ratio and Repo rates at the same level until the bank could assess the situation.

Risky structures

Part of the reason Rajan is hedging about prices is because food prices are so volatile that nobody can predict where they will go. Uncertainty and risk are built into the agrarian economy, said Himanshu, an associate professor at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning in Jawaharlal Nehru University.

“There is uncertainty in the agricultural production market,” Himanshu said. “People speculate, there are hoarders, lots of things are playing around with prices. That is bad for inflation.”

Essentially, he said, the vulnerability of the agricultural sector, which includes rising input prices and uncertain selling ones, leads to uncertainty in how prices behave.

“If everyone knows prices are going to go up, they will plan for it and plant accordingly,” he said. “But we don’t know what the final prices will be.”

This could not have been truer for Sandipan Babar, a farmer in Osmanabad who killed himself in January 2014. After he returned to his village from Mumbai in 2007 to tend to his two acres of land, he made a series of decisions that turned out to be fatal for him. In 2013, the first time he sowed sugarcane, he lost the entire crop due to the scorching heat that year. As onion prices rose around that time, he thought that to recover his costs with that crop. Instead, prices plummeted to Rs 5 per kilo and another heavy loss.

For farmers to make profits, they need to be able to play the market. Vasant Dahanure, also of Osmanabad, tried to do this with his sugarcane crop. He registered his crop as having been planted in February 2014 with the local sugarcane factory. When it matured a year later, the factory rejected it as still being too young and he had to pay Rs 30,000 to process it into jiggery instead. He will have to recover this amount over several months as a middleman attempts to sell the jaggery whenever the market is favourable.

Food inflation

Crops have been suffering for months now. In March, as Maharashtra applied to the centre for a drought relief package, it noted that moong production in the state had gone down by 61%. Maharashtra is among the top five producers of moong in the country.

In Maharashtra itself, the state government estimates unseasonal rain has damaged Rs 1,000 crore worth of crops across 40,000 hectares. Over half of the jowar sown in Marathwada was affected, as was citrus.

Onions and potatoes, crops with relatively volatile prices, are also at risk. On Wednesday, the Agriculture Ministry announced that it had written to Maharashtra, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh to begin procuring onions to keep prices down.

While food inflation has been on a steady downward trend since June, it spiked in November, following the last of the kharif harvesting. Inflation then steadied and began to decline by February. This trend might now change with unseasonal weather.

One reason for this, a Business Standard report points out, is that pulse and milk prices have been seeing a steady rise, even though cereal prices have dropped. This has already begun to reflect in the consumer and wholesale price indices that measure the cost of goods at wholesale mandis and at retail outlets for consumers.

Meanwhile, farmers are going to great lengths to preserve their crops by any means. Komal Suryavanshi, a 60-year-old farmer in Osmanabad spoke of how she had sown soyabean, jowar and tur on eight of her ten acres of land.

“When there is no water, we spray too much pesticide in the hope that flowers will become fruit,” she said. This does not often work. There is either too much water in the soil, as at this time of the year, or too little, and the crops get damaged either way.