Indian farmers in an agricultural field. (Sipra Das/The India Today Group/Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • El Nino impact and a faltering contribution to GDP by agriculture have prompted a close watch on the south-west monsoon.

    A look at the scenario unfolding in Indian agriculture.

A month and a half since the south-west monsoon arrived in the country, it is time to look at the scenario that is unfolding in Indian agriculture. There are more than one reason why the monsoon is being closely monitored this year.

First, this year, the monsoon was predicted to be impacted by El Nino, a weather phenomenon that affects rainfall and leads to drought due to rise in the sea surface temperature of the Pacific Ocean. Second, Indian agriculture has not been contributing much to the gross domestic product (GDP), particularly in the last couple of years. Its contribution to the GDP has been below 3 per cent.

A good development for the farmers is the Centre announcing a higher minimum support price (MSP) for key crops such as cereals, coarse grains, oilseeds, pulses and cotton. On 3 July, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar announced a 1 per cent to 9 per cent hike in MSP of various crops. The Centre has signalled its intention to support crops that consume less water in announcing the MSP with coarse cereals getting a higher percentage.

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In these circumstances, it is crucial that the monsoon helps the growers with timely showers. Until last week the monsoon received 14 per cent deficient rainfall, however, it seems to have picked some momentum of late. For the week ended on 10 July, the country received 28 per cent surplus rains.

The problem for Indian agriculture is that 13 of the 36 meteorological subdivisions received deficient rainfall. The situation is, however, better than a week before as 26 subdivisions received deficient rainfall. Unfortunately, no subdivision has received excess rainfall until now, a reflection of how El Nino has affected monsoon this year.

According to the India Meteorological Department, the situation has deteriorated in Gangetic West Bengal, Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu and south interior Karnataka with the rainfall being deficient above 40 per cent in the first three named regions. There are also concerns over monsoon being deficient in the Saurashtra and Kutch regions in Gujarat and Marathwada, and Vidarbha region in Maharashtra.

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In terms of states, only one — Dadra Nagar and Haveli — has received largely excess rainfall, while four — Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Daman and Diu and Andaman Islands — have received normal rainfall. The monsoon has so far been normal in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura, Sikkim, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Odisha, Goa, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka. Rest of the 17 states have received deficient rainfall.

The deficient rainfall has resulted in the storage level in 91 major reservoirs of the country being lower than the last 10 years’ average. Against a total capacity of 161.99 billion cubic metres (BCM), the live storage was 35.018 or 21.7 per cent of the capacity. Last year, the level was one percentage point higher at 37.221 BCM, while last 10-year average is 37.114 BCM.

At least five reservoirs in Maharashtra have a storage level below 30 per cent of their capacity with the level being below live storage in four of them. One reservoir — Nagarjuna Sagar — in Telangana/Andhra Pradesh had a water level below live storage, while a similar situation prevailed at Aliyar in Tamil Nadu. Two reservoirs in Karnataka had a storage level below 30 per cent of capacity. All 15 reservoirs in the country had a storage level below 30 per cent of capacity.

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This has resulted in nearly 9 per cent lower sowings during the current kharif crops season. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, sowing of kharif crops is lower at 41.33 million hectares (MH) compared with 45.23 MH during the same period a year ago. This is a very generalised data.

A minute look at the sowing data shows that barring groundnut and cotton, the acreage of all other kharif crops is lower. Among rice growing states, the acreage is lower in key contributor states such as Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka and West Bengal. Overall, rice coverage is some 1.2 MH lower compared with the same period a year ago, and 2.35 MH normal coverage.

Acreage in pulses, an important crop whose production is key to supplement nutrition in the country, is lower by 1.15 MH than last year. Of concern is the drop in acreage in key states such as Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana. Among pulses, sowing is lower in arhar or tur (pigeon pea) by 0.34 MH. Urad or black matpe acreage is lower by 0.3 MH than last year.

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Coarse cereals sowing is lower by 0.50 MH with the drop being significant in jowar at 0.20 MH followed by bajra at 0.14 MH. Sowing has been reported lower from important coarse grain states such as Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Bihar. In oilseeds, soybean coverage has been tardy with sowing being 1.21 MH lower than last year. Sowing of the oilseed in Madhya Pradesh, India’s soybean hub, and Maharashtra is lower. Other key states such as Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have also reported lower acreage. Groundnut coverage is higher by 0.5 MH with Gujarat, the largest producer of groundnut, reporting 0.27 MH rise in acreage.

In view of the drought-like situation, sugarcane cultivation was predicted to lower this year. As expected, its acreage is lower by 0.20 MH with key states Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu reporting lower coverage.

The area under cotton has increased, mainly since a lower crop this season (October 2018-September 2019) helped buoy prices. As a result, the acreage under the fibre crop has increased by over 20,000 hectares. The area has increased in Rajasthan, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Haryana, while it is lower in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

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There are chances of crops such as rice catching up with normal sowing. Last year, rice coverage was below normal at this point of time but sowing improved resulting in the government estimating a record 114 million tonnes. However, it is unlikely that crops such as soybean or pulses can make up for the lost acreage. There are chances that the area under coarse cereals could increase as the government normally encourages farmers to go in for late sowing of the hard crops that consume less water late during the season.

Overall, kharif crops face a tough time ahead in view of deficient rainfall. However, the good news is that El Nino conditions are easing and more rains could be expected in the coming weeks. Probably, late rains could result in better soil moisture for rabi crops, sown from November onwards. This could probably help farmers make up for any setbacks during kharif sowing.

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