India would be reaping a record harvest of foodgrains in 2016-17 with pulses being the high point of the country’s achievements in the farm output, providing a food for thought about how policy interventions and reaching out to farmers can motivate them to turn things around from severe shortages to near self- sufficiency.
Receptive as they are to the changing production, consumption and pricing pattern of different crops, aided by real time information made possible through new media, farmers have risen once again to the occasion. They would be producing 271.98 million tonnes of foodgrains in 2016-17, as per the second advance estimates, breaching the previous record of 265.57 million tonnes in 2013-14. Year on year, total foodgrains output would be rising by an impressive 8.1 per cent in 2016-17 over 251.56 million tonnes in the previous year.
If we draw a comparison between the previous best year of 2013-14 and the new record breaking year of 2016-17, farmers picked up positive signals for better returns and the minimum support price fixed by the Central Government and went about increasing area under acreage for pulses. In the last three years, the acreage for pulses went up from 252.18 lakh hectares to 288.58 lakh hectares with yields increasing from 19.78 million tonnes to 22.14 million tonnes. This would be close to the country’s demand for the protein rich lentils, though the consumption is bound to increase as average income of both rural and urban families move up. Surely, this would mean a sustained focus on raising production and achieving self-sufficiency for pulses.
But for now, the situation with regard to pulses prices has improved considerably. Pulses are no more making headlines for sky-rocketing prices which have now moved down to as much as Rs 4200-5500 per quintal in the wholesale mandis. The retail annual inflation, measured by the Consumer Price Index, for pulses and products was negative 6.62 per cent for January, 2017. The credit for achieving near self-sufficiency goes to farmers and to some of the effective measures taken by the government.
The strategy involved achieving higher acreage for pulses under the rain-fed areas in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, UP and Tamil Nadu. Sufficient rains in 2016 too helped the farmers who were assured of an MSP along with bonus for their produce. As pulses production involves risks against the vagaries of weather, the upgraded crop insurance scheme ‘Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana’ (PMFBY) too motivated the farmers. The estimated government expenditure on the PMFBY for 2016-17 is pegged at Rs 13,240 crore.
One of the high points of the pulses story is the involvement of the North Eastern states in the mission for stepping up production through multi-pronged strategies. The game plan included rice fallows through cluster demonstration of technologies by the extension machinery of the states and Centre, intercropping with cereals, oilseeds and commercial crops; cultivation of Arhar (Tur) on farm bunds, creation of seed hubs for quality seeds, and distribution of seed mini kits free of cost to farmers. India has been traditionally importing a large of pulses from Mynamar which has similar climatic conditions to the North-Eastern states.
Besides, the pulses component of the National Food Security Mission has been extended from 468 to 638 districts of 29 states including all districts of North-Eastern states and hill states like Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir and Uttarakhand.
Thanks to the record foodgrains production, helped by the weather Gods as well, along with the policy interventions, the Indian agriculture is set to achieve an impressive growth of over four per cent. The impact is being seen widely on the availability and prices of the food products, including vegetables in the market. However, it has to be ensured that a good balance is achieved between a modest level of retail inflation and remunerative prices to the growers. After all, farming as a profession has to remain a priority for the country both for the welfare of the farmers as also for ensuring national food security.
Rice and wheat would also be available in abundant quantity with the harvest set to grow by 4.26 per cent and 4.71 per cent respectively in the current crop year over 2015-16. For 2016-17 rice production is expected to reach the highest ever record of 108.86 million tonnes.
On the other hand, wheat output would rise to 96.64 million tonnes in 2016-17, up by 4.71 per cent over the previous year.
A note-worthy feature of rice and wheat story is that the yield has increased while the acreage dropped in the last three years, pointing towards better farm productivity which, of course, needs to be further supplemented. For rice, the area under cultivation in 2013-14 was 441.36 lakh hectares, giving an output of 106.65 million tonnes. The acreage in 2016-17 dropped to 427.44 lakh hectares, but production is estimated to be going up to 108.86 million tonnes.
A similar picture has emerged for wheat. The area under cultivation in 2013-14 was 304.73 lakh hectares with an output of 95.85 million tonnes. The comparative figure for 2016-17 is 302.31 lakh hectares, while production is pegged at 96.64 million tonnes. Doubtlessly, the farmers of the country need to be applauded for their efforts. Let’s hope, assisted by several new measures taken by the government, the day is not far when the farmers of our country will be a happy lot. As Prime Minister Modi has said, “Give water to the farmers of this country and see the wonders they can do. Through the Pradhanmantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana, we want to ensure that water reaches every village across the length and breadth of the country.” The Prime Minister has also said that his government has a vision of doubling the farmers’ income by 2022.
(Prakash Chawla is a senior New Delhi-based journalist writing mostly on political-economic issues. The views expressed in the article are author’s own)