Drought fails to dampen foodgrain output

Foodgrain production set to grow marginally despite widespread drought in 11 states, third advance estimates released by farm ministry shows


Total foodgrain production in 2015-16 is estimated at 252.23 million tonnes, marginally higher than 252.02 million tonnes produced in 2014-15, the data shows. Photo: Reuters
Total foodgrain production in 2015-16 is estimated at 252.23 million tonnes, marginally higher than 252.02 million tonnes produced in 2014-15, the data shows. Photo: Reuters

New Delhi: Despite widespread drought in 11 states across the country, India’s foodgrain production is actually set to grow marginally, the third advance estimates released by the agriculture ministry on Monday showed.

Total foodgrain production in 2015-16 is estimated at 252.23 million tonnes, marginally higher than 252.02 million tonnes produced in 2014-15, the data shows.

If the estimates hold up, it would imply that the damage to the agrarian economy is less than what had been initially feared; at the same time, it also reflects a degree of resilience of Indian agriculture to a deficit monsoon.

Last year was the second successive year of deficit rains, with the south-west monsoon recording a shortfall of 14% compared with the normal amount. While 2014 also received sub-par rains, in 2013-14, a normal monsoon year, India produced a record 265 million tonnes of foodgrains.

The third advance estimates show that wheat production is likely to rise by 8.7%, from 86.53 million tonnes (in 2014-15) to 94.04 million tonnes in 2015-16. The rise is despite 5.6% lower sowing of the winter crop of wheat and a warm and dry winter which fuelled fears of a lower crop.

Analysts are sceptical about the optimism underlying the latest advance estimates.

“Markets and traders were expecting a wheat crop of 88 million tonnes due to lower sowing, so 94 million tonnes comes as a big surprise,” said Ashok Gulati, agriculture chair professor at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, Delhi. “The issue is the government has a huge machinery in place to estimate production and we do not have an alternative.”

The estimates show that India’s pulses output is likely to remain unchanged at 17 million tonnes in 2015-16 compared with the year before, despite a 7% lower sowing of rabi (winter) pulses. Pulses are mostly grown as a rain-fed crop in India with only 16% area under irrigation, compared with 93% of wheat area under irrigation.

Nearly all major pulse growing states in India such as Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka declared themselves drought-hit. The better numbers for wheat and pulses, despite the drought, could be due to the fact that in 2014-15, widespread unseasonal rains had caused heavy damage to the winter crop just ahead of the harvest.

The overall estimates look too optimistic and are inconsistent with lower sowing of wheat and pulses, said Himanshu, associate professor of economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, and a Mint columnist.

“These numbers could see a downward revision when the fourth advance estimates are released (in July or August),” he added.

The drought in 2015-16, however, seems to have impacted production of rice and rain-fed crops of coarse grains and cotton, the estimates show.

While production of rice during 2015-16 is estimated at 103.36 million tonnes, lower by 2.12 million tonnes compared with the year before, production of coarse grains is set to be lower by 5 million tonnes, a 12% drop compared with the year before.

Cotton production is also set to dip by 12.3%—30.5 million bales (of 170kg each) in 2015-16- compared with 34.8 million tonnes produced the year before. In 2013-14, India produced a record 36 million bales.

Production of oilseeds is estimated to be lower at 25.9 million tonnes (in 2015-16) compared with 27.5 million tonnes in 2014-15, the estimates show.

In 2015, 11 states declared a drought. Successive years of poor rainfall have worsened the drinking water situation, with more than 25% of rural habitations in India facing water scarcity, the agriculture ministry said last month.

According to the centre, an estimated 330 million people in 10 states have been affected by drought.

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