India to see expansion of agri sector in summer, despite Covid pandemic
India has forecast an expansion of agriculture despite a massive surge in Covid-19 numbers, as farmers are projected to raise output to record levels in the oncoming kharif or summer-sown season, following a pandemic-defying performance in 2020.
The Union government is anticipating an increase in sowing and higher demand from the farm sector. It has issued instructions for the seamless availability and supply of critical inputs, such as fertilisers, seeds, pesticides, and machinery.
Millions of farmers have worked hard to keep agricultural operations going throughout the pandemic, aided by an exemption of the farm sector from Covid-related restrictions.
The pandemic has hit urban centres and smaller towns harder, relatively sparing farming activities in the countryside, another reason why the farm sector has outpaced other spheres of the economy.
Nearly half (48%) of all Covid-19 cases reported in India in March were from urban areas, home to just 14% of the population, with cities having the largest proportion of new infections since June 2020, according to an April 8 analysis by the HT.
“We expect a nearly 10% increase in fertiliser demand,” an official of the agriculture ministry said, requesting not to be named.
Also Read | Cabinet approves PMGKAY food aid scheme
A key reason for the optimism has been the forecast of a normal 2021 monsoon, the third straight year of optimal rains. The India Meteorological Department on April 16 forecast rainfall during the June-to-September monsoon season to be 98%. Rainfall between 94-106% is considered “normal”.
On April 27, fertiliser minister DV Sadananda Gowda reviewed the demand-supply situation. In the meeting, officials projected that fertiliser demand could be around 35 million tonne in the summer-sown season, up from 32 million tonne during the corresponding period last year, a second official said. The review concluded that the country has enough stocks of fertilisers.
On April 30, agriculture minister Narendra Tomar led a meeting of strategists and officials who will steer the so-called “Kharif Campaign 2021”. Tomar announced a higher foodgrains production target of 307 million tonnes for 2021-22, up from 301.92 million tonne in 2020-21.
According to a presentation by agriculture commissioner Suresh Malhotra at the meet, there were sufficient supplies of seeds, fertilisers, pesticides and machinery, except soyabean and maize seeds. States have been asked to procure these seeds from the National Seed Corporation and farmers could use their own “saved seeds” from previous harvests in case of an emergency, he said.
In 2020, when a harsh lockdown stoked a countrywide recession, the agriculture sector showed resilience to register positive growth. It grew 3.4% in the June 2020 quarter, when rest of the economy shrunk -24.4%.
All-India growth returned to positive territory in the December 2020 quarter, the latest available data, expanding 0.4%. Agriculture grew at 3.9% in the same quarter.
“When you have a normal monsoon, that in itself takes care of most of the issues in agriculture. But the government should also be ready with adequate plans for patches where droughts are still possible in a normal year,” said RS Mani, a former faculty of the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University.