New Delhi: The area under rice cultivation in India has declined 21% from over a year ago because of deficient monsoon showers in key rice producing states. This is the first time in five years that the area sown under rice has decreased year-on-year.
Rice, India’s most important and widely grown food crop, accounts for nearly 35% of the nation’s farmland under kharif, or summer, cultivation. A decline in acreage will hurt next year’s procurement and could impact the country’s economic growth.
Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar told the Rajya Sabha on Friday that the area sown under rice in the year to 17 July fell to 11.46 million ha, from 14.52 million ha in 2008. Planting of soya beans and sugar cane also lagged year-ago levels.
The shortfall, he said, was largely due to reduced sowing in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal, which pool in nearly 70% of the country’s total rice output, following poor rains. The monsoon is crucial for India as 60% of its 140 million ha of cultivable land depends on rain.
“Rice area and productivity may be adversely impacted, which could be compensated to some extent by cultivating oilseeds, pulses and cereals,” Pawar said during a debate on agriculture output.
But he also said India has sufficient stocks of rice and wheat to meet any shortage. “We have enough rice to meet 13 months of requirements in our kitty.”
“It is easy to say there is a contingency plan, which essentially means short duration variety of seeds, replacing paddy with another crop, etc. But these will not help,” said S. Raghuraman, head (trade research) at Agriwatch, a New Delhi-based agri research outfit. “The requisite machinery for a contingency plan, which essentially should be anticipated much in advance term, is missing. The problem will be particularly serious in Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.”
Pawar also said that India, which has bought a record 30 million tonnes (mt) of rice and 25.1mt of wheat from farmers this year, is ending exports through diplomatic channels.
India had banned overseas sales of wheat in February 2007 and shipments of non-basmati rice on 1 April 2008, to ease local supplies and cool rising food prices.
The government has since September allowed sales to African nations, Nepal and Bangladesh. A plan to export 900,000 tonnes of wheat was scrapped on 13 July.
Santhosh Joy and Bloomberg contributed to this story.