The year 2015 was a challenging one for the agriculture sector. It was the second consecutive year of hardships for farmers owing to drought and inclement weather in several parts of the country highlighting the urgency to address issues of climate change. The concerns are carried forward in the coming year as currently rabi sowing of wheat is lower by 20.23 lakh hectares than last year , the prices of pulses and vegetables continue to rule high and towards sugarcane growers stand at Rs. 5406 crore.
Southwest monsoon was 14 per cent below normal of the Long Period Average in 2015 on the back of 12 per cent deficiency in the previous year affecting the kharif crop. The northeast monsoon that followed played havoc in Tamil Nadu and adjoining region with unprecedented floods wiping out entire paddy and cash crops.
While the production of pulses and oilseeds is perpetually short of demand for several years now, this time there are concerns about the output of cereals. Although the country is surplus in foodgrains as of now, experts point out that with a legal commitment to provide at least 62.5 million tonnes of subsidized foodgrains in the Targetted Public Distribution System under the National Food Security Act, farmers are keeping their fingers crossed for good weather conditions to achieve a good harvest. Sowing is still going on so hopes are high.
At least nine states have declared drought-hit districts this year. These are Karnataka, Chhattisgarh , Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana and Jharkhand. Tamil Nadu, of course, has flood-hit districts. Parts of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh had been hit by drought during 2014-15 as well.
The fourth advance estimates of foodgrains production in 2014-15 at 252.68 is 12.36 million tonnes lower than the output of 265.04 million tonnes in 2013-14. This is due to a 6.91 million tonnes decline in the production of wheat . Rice too was slightly lower. Pulses output went down from 19.24 million tonnes to 17.20 million in tonnes in 2014-15 leading to the crisis of unprecedented price rise in these commodities. Tur prices, for instance, jumped up from Rs. 75 per kilogram a year ago to Rs. 199 per kg and are still not under control. Not just tur and urad, major pulses are selling in the retail market at almost Rs. 140 per kilogram. Efforts to nail in hoarders and blackmarketeers did not yield the desired effect.
During the year the government raised the minimum support price of major pulses by Rs. 275 per quintal. Time and again the government has had to intervene in the market for onions and pulses this year. Even the prices of potato and tomatoes have ruled high this year not to talk of the regular vegetables and fruits. At the onset of the season peas were selling for as high as Rs 110 per kilogram.
To tide over the situation the government has set up a Price Stabilisation Fund with a corpus of Rs. 500 crore. Some of the funds were released this year for subsidised sale of pulses for states who came up with innovative schemes to provide pulses at affordable prices to Public Distribution System beneficiaries.
With production estimates for 2015-16 still lower than the bumper crop of 2013-14, the government has decided to create a buffer stock of 1.5 lakh tonnes of tur and urad dals which will be procured directly from farmers at market rates.
To mitigate the suffering from drought, the government came up with several measures including taking 50 per cent of the damaged crop area into consideration rather than mere 33 per cent and raising the relief amount by 50 per cent.
Reportedly Maharashtra’s Marathwada region, which has been reeling under drought for last four years, saw the highest number of suicides by distressed farmers this year. The central government has given a drought relief of Rs. 3050 crore to the state, followed by Rs. 2033 crore to Madhya Pradesh, Rs. 1540 crore to Karnataka and Rs. 1672 crore to Chhattisgarh. The money will be given from the National Disaster Relief Fund. Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh blamed states for tardy implementation of drought relief and delay in sending memoranda of demand which led to farmers’ distress. “Implementation is in the hands of states,’’ the Minister said.
Lower rabi sowing this year has prompted the Agriculture Ministry to be ready with Contingency Plan and be prepared to move seeds and fertilizers to the affected region, Last year while the average deficiency in monsoon was 14 per cent, in Punjab and Haryana it was to the tune of 17 per cent. Although these`states are irrigation, pre-harvest inclement weather hurt standing crop.
Seeking to address the issue of low productivity, the government has launched in a big way the scheme to issue Soil Health Cards. It proposes to cover 14.40 crore farmers in the next three years and has allocated Rs. 568.54 crore for the project. The card will enable a farmer to get assessed his/her far, soil for nutrient deficiency and fertilizer use. It will come with an advisory for the farmer on how much fertilizer etc. be applied in each crop.
With its focus on organic farming the government launched Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojna which encourages cluster farming. The subsidy for organic manure was raised to Rs. 300 from Rs. 100 per hectare.
About 60 per cent of India’s agriculture is dependent on timely and adequate rain every year and recent droughts have only but emphasized the need for raising irrigation potential for farming. Towards this end the government last year launched the Prime Minister’s Krishi Sinchai Yojna which is meant to ensure that more hectares are brought under irrigation. The budget allocation for this was about Rs.5300 crore which includes the funds for the Accelerated Integrated Benefit Programme. Agriculture Ministry says that about 1.55 lakh hectares have been covered under drip and sprinkler project under this programme.
Crop insurance and raising the income of farmers has been a long standing demand. While the minimum support price of cereals, pulses and oilseeds were raised substantially during the year, an adequate Crop Insurance Scheme is still elusive. Replying to a debate in Parliament on Drought, Mr. Radha Mohan Singh announced that the government will soon come up with a crop insurance scheme that does not burden the farmer with high premiums and shall be more accurate in assessing crop damage.
Knowledge of markets and market intelligence is one area that can benefit farmers for getting remunerative price for its produce. To this extent the government moved towards setting up National Agriculture Market which will enable farmer to offer his produce to any market through e-marketing.
During the year the Ministry launched several mobile applications for farmers to empower them. Crop Insurance application will help farmers find out the insurance cover and the premium applicable to them. The “AgriMarket Mobile” enables a farmer to get the market prices of crops in the mandi within 50 km radius.
To get over the problems of lack of mobiles and lack of connectivity in hinterlands, the Agriculture Ministry has decided to make all its services available through mobile platforms. Over two crore farmers are registered with the Ministry for use of ‘mKisan’ portal for receiving SMS advisories on crops and weather.
However, there is no denying the fact that weather conditions hold the key for agricultural growth and prosperity, more so in the coming year when concerns about crop production, availability and prices will spill over. In 2015 while horticulture and fisheries sector remained robust, farm sector growth decelerated due to continuously bad weather. (EOM).
*Gargi Parsai is a Senior Journalist based in Delhi.