As the sowing season comes to an end, latest figures reveal the area under paddy cultivation across the country has shrunk 26 per cent this year. Alarm bells are already ringing.
Praying for rain: An old farmer looks up the sky for clouds at drought hit Morahu Village near Allahabad on Monday.
A worried Centre on Monday decided to keep subsidising diesel sale up to September 30 to farmers in drought-hit districts, so they can pump enough ground water to offset deficient rainfall, an official at the agriculture ministry said.
The decision followed weekend data showing that the patchy monsoon has shaved off 66 lakh hectares of about 257 lakh hectares of area.
The worst hit have been the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand, where the bulk of the population lives off agriculture.
Rainfall in July, a critical month for farmers, was 18 per cent below normal. Sowing in many states had slowed down significantly even earlier, as the country experienced its driest June in 83 years, according to the meteorological department.
With the “sowing window” — June to July — drawing to a close, the area in which the kharif crop (sown in June-July, harvested in October-November) has been sown is now unlikely to go up significantly.
This will trim farm output for the first time after a three-year surge. Last year’s kharif rice output was 83 million tonnes.
Assam, Manipur, Jharkhand and two-thirds of UP have been declared drought-hit. On Monday, Bihar CM Nitish Kumar said he may have to declare the entire state — where only 17 per cent of farmland has been sown — drought affected.
Officials, however, remain hopeful. “We expect the gap in net sown area to be bridged further because farmers are still sowing,” Agriculture Commissioner N.B. Singh told HT.
Experts think it’s too late and that the impending drought will have a cascading impact on prices of essential goods, which have already begun to rise.
“Having had the forewarning of low output, the government should make plans to manage inflationary expectations by ensuring enough foodgrains supply,” said Rajiv Kumar, CEO, Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, said.
The Prime Minister recently reviewed crop situation, the agriculture ministry official said. The Centre has given states the flexibility to utilise funds under Crop Development Programmes to cushion the impact.
As a whole, India has enough reserves to meet the likely dip in farm output. But a drought invariably pushes up prices.
Farmers in many states have gone for cotton and coarse cereals like bajra, but the switch to alternative crops is limited.