Even as farmers protested, India’s rabi coverage rose 9% this year
Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, UP see biggest rise; farmers who agitated say they took turns between protesting and tending to crops
How did the agriculture sector — which employs, directly or indirectly, close to 60% of India’s population — fare over the past year, as farmer unions participated in a year-long sit-in protest at the Delhi border?
According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, total area under coverage in the ongoing rabi season is up by 25.40 lakh hectares (as on December 3), mainly due to an increase (18.92 lakh ha) in acreage of oilseeds crop and wheat (7.24 lakh ha).
Hannan Mollah, general secretary of Left-affiliated All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), said: “The agitation has not affected output. Protestors came here in batches, while others tended to the crops in villages during sowing and reaping season.” The 75-year-old activist is part of the top decision-making body of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella organisation of protesting unions.
Rakesh Tikait, the 52-year-old leader of Bharatiya Kisan Union who led the protestors at the Uttar Pradesh-Delhi border in Ghazipur, echoed the claim. Farmers had to simultaneously keep “an eye on the protest, and one on their field”, he said. “They need to tend to their crops — but are always ready to return to the protest sites whenever required.”
Rapeseed, mustard feed increase
It is now the season for sowing winter crops. The rabi crops — wheat, barley, peas, gram and mustard — are sown at the end of monsoon or the beginning of winter. Kharif crops — such as rice, bajra and groundnut — are sown at the beginning of the rainy season. These crops have just been harvested (September-October).
Said a CMIE (Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy) report: “The area under rabi crops expanded by 8.9% by November 19, 2021, compared to the area sown during the similar period a year ago. Sown area reached 26.1 million ha. This was 41.7% of the normal area of 62.5 million ha cultivated during the rabi season.”
However, it also noted: “Overall increase in sown area (till that date) was led by the sharp expansion in area cultivated under rapeseed and mustard. Area sown under other major crops like wheat and gram increased but that under coarse cereals continued to lag last year’s area sown.”
The report added that by November 19, area sown under wheat increased by 9.6% year-on-year to 8.8 million hectares. Wheat is the largest crop cultivated during the rabi season. It accounts for almost half of the total area sown during this season.
The Agriculture Ministry statement said that till December 3, about 200.66 lakh ha area coverage for wheat was reported, compared to 193.42 lakh ha during the corresponding period of last year, up 7.24 lakh ha.
States that shone
Among States which recorded higher areas under cultivation were Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, widely believed to have seen the most participation in the farmers’ agitation. On the other hand, lesser area under cultivation was reported from Bihar, Gujarat, Maharashtra, etc.
Meanwhile, for rice, about 9.74 lakh ha area coverage has been reported (as of December 3), compared to 9.38 lakh ha during the corresponding period of last year, up 0.36 lakh ha.
And for pulses, about 113.98 lakh ha area coverage has been reported (till December 3), according to the Agriculture Ministry, compared to 113.48 lakh ha during the corresponding period of last year, marking a rise of 0.50 lakh ha.
“The protests never kept farmers away from their fields. They have been taking turns and keeping their commitments as responsible citizens and tillers,” asserted Mollah. However, he said, other factors have taken a toll on them. “Prices of fertilisers have skyrocketed. There is an acute shortage of fertilisers in the market,” he said.
Skyrocketing fertiliser prices
The CMIE report also mentioned that “shortage in the supply of fertilisers has become a cause for concern this rabi season, particularly in the northern States of Punjab and Haryana”. Fertiliser shortages started cropping up from the beginning of the kharif season, it added.
Sales of di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) — used more commonly across States at the beginning of sowing of rabi crops — declined 21.4%. “The international price of DAP has been almost twice the year-ago levels since April 2021,” said the CMIE. “This has increased import costs. Its adequate availability could have speeded up the pace of sowing activities.”
Add to it sales of urea, which dropped by 34%, and potassium chloride (MoP), which fell 59.4% during October 2021 compared to the corresponding year-ago levels.
A rise in fuel prices is also affecting the farming community. Farmer leaders claim a slight drop after escalation in prices will bring no reprieve.
They also pointed out to reports that due to unexpected rains, major crops like basmati rice, sugarcane, potato and peas were hit hard. Rains continued this time beyond the conventional period of southwest monsoon that closes by September-end.
In Punjab, paddy is harvested by October-end. This is done to clear the fields in time for sowing of wheat. This year, the paddy harvest in the State suffered due to the harsh winds and late end to the monsoon. According to figures released by the India Meteorological Department (IMD), the State witnessed around 22% more rainfall than average.
There were reports that rains damaged standing paddy crops over thousands of acres in various parts of the State —that too when paddy harvesting season was about to peak.
Figures released by the Agriculture Ministry reflect that harvesting of kharif crops like rice or sowing of rabi crops like wheat remain mostly unaffected despite the stir or vagaries of nature.
Quoting the official statistics, farmer union leaders stressed the point that the agitation “will continue till 2024 (when Lok Sabha polls are due) if needed, but countrymen will never face shortage” as far as produce is concerned (subsequently, the farmers ended the protest).
“After all, we are referred to as annadata (food providers), isn’t it?” quipped a farmer protesting at the Singhu border.