For over three decades, agricultural experts have been calling for the reduction of paddy area in the rabi season, except in areas where it is not possible to grow any other crop.

They cite two reasons: One, the country’s granaries are overflowing with stocks of rice. Two, paddy grown in rabi yields less rice due to the high temperatures in some rice-growing States.

Due to high temperatures, the grain gets brittle, resulting in significant losses in the milling. Their voices seem to have been heard finally this rabi season, with the country reporting a reduction in the paddy area.

Farmers opting out

According to figures available as of Friday, January 21, the acreage under paddy has decreased 21.86 per cent to 23.61 lakh hectares (lh) against 30.21 lh last year. Though the area might go up in the next 1-2 weeks, the overall area under the foodgrain is expected to be lower than the last year.

The normal area under paddy during the rabi season is about 43 lh. The bulk of reduction comes from Telangana, which has entered a cul-de-sac with regard to rabi paddy. Unlike the kharif season, paddy is grown only in a handful of States during the rabi season.

The paddy production in rabi is expected to remain lower by 10-15 per cent on a year-on-year basis on lower acreage especially in Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Odisha where farmers preferred other remunerative crops, said Prerana Desai, Head of Research Desk at Samunnati.

With the Union government expressing its inability to procure parboiled rice from the current rabi season, farmers, particularly in Telangana, are opting out of paddy in a big way. That the farmers have sown paddy in only 2.83 lh against 9 lh in the previous rabi season reflect the mood.

The under rabi paddy in Telangana went up by three times to 22 lh in the last 4-5 years as the State augmented irrigation facilities significantly. After procuring 92 lakh tonnes (lt) in the rabi procurement season last year, the Food Corporation of India (FCI) expressed its inability to buy the parboiled rice from the rabi season.

“We don’t see any issues with the procurement of raw rice. The issue is only with parboiled rice. We have stocks of parboiled rice for 3-4 years. We can’t buy any more,” an FCI official said.

On December 1, the FCI had a stock of 21.30 million tonnes of rice in the central pool, compared to buffer norms of 7.6 million tonnes. “With the procurement custom milled rice for the central pool has already started and is in full pace, the central pool stock is expected to increase from January,” Desai said.

Steady growth in Bengal

West Bengal, which had registered a marginal decline in area under kharif paddy, is witnessing good sowing of rabi paddy. There has been a greater emphasis on enhancing the sowing of rabi paddy to offset shortfall if any.

“The government and farmers have been extra cautious with the rabi sowing this year as the kharif sowing was impacted due to untimely rains and delayed sowing. The sowing of rabi paddy looks very good and we expect a higher crop if the weather conditions continue to remain favourable,” an agri expert said.

Production of rabi paddy is estimated to be close to 80-90 lt a year. The estimated decline in kharif paddy has pushed up rice prices in West Bengal. “The good prices have also helped boost farmers’ sentiments and hence they have gone in for higher sowing,” Suraj Agarwal, Chief Executive Officer of Tirupati Agri Trade, said.

Area up in Tamil Nadu

In Tamil Nadu, the area under the late Samba/Thaladi (October-November) and Navarai (December-January) paddy is likely to be higher this time.

“There are a couple of reasons for the higher acreage. One, we have had good rains. Two, in view of the continuous rains the soil moisture is good. Three, our reservoirs are filled to the brim and water will last longer this year,” Vettavalam Manikandan, President of Tamil Nadu Farmers Association, said. He, however, added procurement of rice by the Centre through direct procurement centres should be increased. 

Rice is grown in 28 districts in Tamil Nadu with 94 per cent of the area under the foodgrain in high yielding regions. Tamil Nadu totally produces 78 lt of rice annually with over 75 per cent of it being produced during the Samba, Thaladi and Navarai seasons.

Insignificant in Karnataka

Paddy in rabi season is an insignificant crop in Karnataka. Of the targeted area of 0.15 lh in Karnataka, sowing has been completed in only 0.07 lh.

A little less than half of the targeted area has been covered under paddy, so far, as farmers are seen preferring other crops like pulses and maize. Cereals as a category have been trailing this rabi season at 10.22 lh as compared to last year’s levels of 10.75 lh.

Alternative crops

“The country can look at converting some of the areas under paddy into pulses or horticultural crops. You can’t help but grow paddy in some coastal areas. But in other places, you can encourage a shift towards to pulses and vegetables,” G V Ramanjaneyulu, CEO of Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA), told BusinessLine.

Samunnati’s Desai said record procurement of rice, massive growth in exports of rice to Bangladesh and Vietnam and higher transportation costs have all contributed to rise in prices of rice.

This is the last report of the five-part series on Rabi crops outlook

(With inputs from Shobha Roy, in Kolkata; Vishwanath Kulkarni, Bengaluru and Subramani Ra Mancombu, Chennai)