As many as 225 districts in the country — mostly in central and southern India — were officially at the first level of drought trigger by August end, threatening to dent the prospect of a robust kharif output, but rainfall in the last couple of weeks seem to have salvaged the situation. As of now, only 58 of the country’s over 550 districts with sizeable farmland are witnessing “moderate drought-like conditions”, a senior official said, adding that the “possibility of severe drought emerging in any district is virtually nil”.
Union agriculture secretary Shobhana K Pattanayak told FE that the country’s foodgrain production is likely to match last year’s figure of a record 276 million tonnes. The southwest monsoon is about to start withdrawing in a week.
Pattanayak’s comment, ahead of the first advance estimate of 2017-18 kharif production to be released next week, was in the context of the Mahalanobis National Crop Forecast Centre (NCFC) under the ministry of agriculture saying a few days ago that the districts with the first level of drought trigger rose sharply to 225 by end-August from 104 in the previous month.
Under the drought assessment manual launched last year, the procedure involves three stages: In the first stage, the rainfall deviation and the dry spells are taken into consideration for issuing “first-trigger” while in the second stage, crop sowing, soil moisture and hydrology are checked to assess the severity of drought situation. If a drought situation is established, the state government concerned is asked to do a field verification. The first-stage trigger, clarified an NCFC official on condition of anonymity, more often than not doesn’t lead to declaration of an area as “drought-affected”.
Of the country’s 36 meteorological subdivisions, only seven fall under rain-deficit zone classification right now; in terms of area, just 22% is rain-deficient.
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) on Wednesday said that monsoon has recently been “vigorous” over Marathwada and “active” over Odisha, West Madhya Pradesh, Madhya Maharashtra and Vidarbha. The areas that are still rain-deficient include Vidarbha, eastern and western Uttar Pradesh, western and eastern Madhya Pradesh and coastal Karnataka. The deficient rains in eastern MP (29% below normal) and western MP (24%) could hit soyabean crops.
However, according to the agriculture ministry’s assessment, 4 million hectares (mh) of agricultural land out of a total kharif sowing area of 104.1 mh have been adversely impacted by floods. The flood-affected lands are in Bihar, Gujarat, West Bengal, Assam and eastern Uttar Pradesh. This could pull down output of rice, pulses and oilseeds. The sowing of cotton and sugarcane in the current kharif season has been more than last year.
While grain sowing has almost kept pace with that of last year’s, the area under oilseeds saw a fall of almost 10% and pulses by 4% owing to arhar area declining sharply by 18% due to central Indian farmers abandoning the crop in the wake of the glut-induced price crash last year. However, retail prices of pulses, which have fallen sharply recently, are unlikely to flare up in the coming months given the adequate buffer stocks with government agencies.
While Pattanayak says this year’s foodgrain output (the kharif crop accounts for over 50% of grain production) could equal last year’s record (wheat, the chief rabi grain,is mostly irrigated), there are concerns on the farm-sector GDP this fiscal. An unfavourable base will still weigh on the farm sector growth in real terms this fiscal, especially from the third quarter. The sector had grown at 6.9% and 5.2%, respectively, in Q3 and Q4 of the last fiscal; in current prices, the growth rates were even higher at 8.8% and 7.9%, respectively. In Q1FY18, the nominal gross value added in agriculture grew just 0.3% against the real expansion of 2.3%, thanks to a 1.7% decline in wholesale price food inflation in Q1 from a year earlier.
Last year, because of severe shortfall in rainfall both under the southwest and northeast monsoon, Tamil Nadu had declared all its 32 districts “drought-affected”. Karnataka had declared drought in 160 talukas out of total 177 talukas in 30 districts. Others states that declared drought in some of their districts last year include Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh.