If government data are anything to go by, India’s weather-beaten farms are looking at a miracle. Despite a crippling 14% deficient monsoon in half the country and possibly a smaller crop, the agriculture ministry expects higher output, prompting experts to wonder how the data might square up.
According to the second advance estimates – or the second of the four official projections of farm output made in a year – food-grain output will rise to about 253.2 million tonne in 2015-16, compared to 252 million tonne in the previous year. That’s roughly one million tonne more.
A back-to-back drought – the one last year was more severe than the year before – has shrivelled crops, while a lack of moisture and an unusually warm winter have stoked fears of a reduced rabi harvest.
The output of wheat, the main winter crop, is projected to be 93.82 million tonne, about 7.3 million tonne more. This is also 2 million tonne higher than the average of the past five years’ wheat output. Stories from the fields don’t match the optimism. Wheat planting is lower by 3%.
The estimates have also projected slightly higher pulses output at 17.33 million tonne in 2015-16, compared to the previous year’s 17.15 million tonne. The projected rise came even as the area under pulses shrank 4.3%.
On January 8, Mohanlal Meena, agriculture director of Madhya Pradesh, a major wheat producer, told news agency PTI he expected the state’s output to drop 13%. On February 22, food minister Ram Vilas Paswan said he did not expect pulses production to go up. Yet, the agriculture ministry expects output to go up precisely in wheat and gram, a type of pulses, an official said.
“The second advance estimates are based only on sowing data for rabi crops. There is no data on yield at this point. Crops are still to be harvested. The optimism is probably regarding yields. They hope the difference (in output) will not be very large compared to last year’s. Why this optimism I am not very clear because field reports are not very good. Maybe it’s just on the basis of area covered,” said Abhijit Sen, noted economist and former head of agriculture in the erstwhile Planning Commission.
The advance estimates foresee a drop in output for most other crops. For instance, oilseed output is projected to be lower by nearly 1.2 million tonne, while millets are expected to drop 11.6% in 2015-16, compared to the previous year.
“If true, well and good. But government keeps revising their initial data all the time because the actual thing is different,” said Ganesh Videre of Comtrade, a commodities firm.