It's been a double whammy for farmers in Himachal Pradesh, known as India's fruit bowl. After poor snowfall last winter, it's deficient rainfall this monsoon that has struck a telling blow.
"We have reason to panic," Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal conceded to IANS.
"The deficient rainfall so far has triggered drought-like conditions across the state. Over 80 per cent of the cultivated area is rain-fed. Crops have been damaged badly, particularly in the low and mid-hills," Dhumal added.
The chief minister said deficit monsoon rains have damaged both the kharif crop now and the rabi crop in winter, when the rains were more than 50 per cent below normal. "This is the third successive crop failure in the state."
The meteorological office here said nine of the state's 12 districts have received deficient rains so far.
"The overall monsoon situation is still precarious. The deficiency in the cumulative rainfall from June 1 till Aug 3 was 51 per cent in nine districts," said met director Manmohan Singh.
As a result, says an initial survey by the agriculture department, cash crop production fell more than 50 per cent in several districts, and in some cases, by as much as 80 per cent.
"Maize crop is likely to decline by over 40 per cent. Similarly, pulses and vegetables have also been hit. The survey is on to know the exact losses," said agriculture secretary Ram Subhag Singh, basing his assumption on the initial survey.
Said farmer Sukchain Singh of Bilaspur: "Generally, the sowing of maize crop is over by mid-June. This time due to the lack of rains, the sowing season has been pushed back three weeks. Now erratic rains could delay sprouting of the seeds."
The production of apple, the main crop of the state, is also down 35-40 per cent.
Horticulture director Gurdev Singh said the apple crop suffered first due to the negligible snowfall last winter and the long dry spell during the current monsoon season.
"Apple crops have received 30-40 per cent less rain since October. This has hit both quality and quantity. The total production would be around 18 million crates of 25 kg each, which will be considerably less than last year's 26 million crates," Singh said.
Poor monsoon, he said, has also affected mango and citrus fruits in Kangra, Bilaspur and Hamirpur districts. "The loss to the horticulture sector alone is Rs.250 crore."
Chief secretary Asha Swarup pegged the total loss for the state's farm community at Rs.850 crore, and said the government had doled out Rs.35 crore as relief to farmers and agriculture dependent sectors.
Revenue Minister Gulab Singh Thakur said steps like waiving off the surcharge tax on agriculture were being taken to help farmers.
"We are now preparing a memorandum to submit to the central government, seeking special grants under drought relief measures," Thakur said.
Himachal Pradesh has already been declared drought-hit.
Agriculture is the main occupation of the people in the state, providing direct employment to 69 per cent of its workforce.
According to the state's Economic Survey for 2008-09, 86 per cent of the total land holdings are of small and marginal farmers, 13 per cent are owned by semi-medium and medium farmers and 0.4 per cent by big farmers.