Rajasthan has turned out to be the dark horse this kharif season. Blessed with record rainfall during the current monsoon, a 66-year-high in arid places such as Jaisalmer, the State is showing the way in the sowing of coarse cereals, pulses and oilseeds.

The north-western State has received 41 per cent surplus rainfall this year, while the country as a whole has received 8 per cent excess downpour. This year, the monsoon’s spread has been uneven, leaving some eastern and northern parts parched. 

The uneven spread of the monsoon has impacted the sowing of kharif crops, especially rice, pulses, and oilseeds. This is where Rajasthan’s role this year has turned out to be crucial. 

State’s contribution

The State accounts for 6.78 lakh hectares (lh) of the total 12.9 lh under jowar while making up 44.88 lh of the total 67.07 lh under bajra. Overall, including small millets, Rajasthan has so far accounted for 51.68 lh of the 87.79 lh under jowar, bajra and small millets. 

In the case of maize, the acreage in the State is better than Maharashtra at 61.113 lh, up nearly 11 lh. It is almost 37 per cent of the total 166.33 lh under the hardy crop. 

While the coverage of cotton has increased by over 40,000 hectares, Rajasthan has brought 7.84 lh under groundnut (the second highest in the country) and 11.46 lh under soyabean (third highest). In the case of castor, the acreage has gone up over three times this year to 1.34 lh from 0.31 lh a year ago. 

Though Rajasthan does not cultivate urad (black matpe) or arhar (pigeon pea), it has accounted for two-thirds or 20.14 lh of the total 30.99 lh under moong (green gram) this year.   

Higher prices

So, what has resulted in Rajasthan emerging as a key State as regards kharif sowing this year? “There are only two reasons. First is the excess rainfall that has even turned a place like Jaisalmer green. And the second reason is higher prices for crops such as bajra, soyabean, groundnut and cotton,” said a State official, who did not wish to be identified. 

According to data from the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, jowar net weighted average modal price (the rate at which most trades take place) is currently double at ₹2,962 a quintal against ₹1,408 a year ago and the minimum support price (MSP) of ₹2,738. Maize modal price is ₹2,146 against ₹1,679 a year ago and the MSP of ₹1,870. 

In the case of bajra, the rates are down at ₹2,240 against ₹2,350 and the MSP of ₹2,250. As regards groundnut and soyabean, prices are, however, lower by nearly ₹2,000 a quintal at ₹6,931 and ₹6,010, respectively compared with the year-ago period. Their MSP is ₹5,550 and ₹3,950, respectively. 

Farmer association leaders and growers say the State government did not come up with any special effort to ensure such a rise in acreage. But what has resulted in the State receiving such a bounty during monsoon this year?

‘No-brainer’

KJ Ramesh, a former director-general of the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said there are clear indications that sustained heating of land has raised the moisture-loading capacity of the atmosphere across the country during the last few decades. Intense heavy rain spells have been matched only by prolonged dry spells even during the ongoing monsoon.

He told BusinessLine that it “is a no-brainer that the desert of Rajasthan too should reflect this in a scale and extent applicable locally”.

“While the warming is global, the response/effect is local,” Ramesh said, referring to an IMD graphic of spatial changes in rainfall over the country from 1950 to 1980 showing a positive anomaly (increasing rainfall) over Rajasthan, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and along the East Coast.

On the other hand, the reverse negative is discernible over what has conventionally been a rain-surplus Kerala and North-East India, apart from Uttar Pradesh, East Madhya Pradesh and North Chhattisgarh. This may have only accentuated after 1980 with the signature of global warming getting clearly written all over, Ramesh surmised. 

Inexplicable reasons

“Look at what the monsoon has done this year. Deficit to start with and turning into a surplus midway only to slip again. It is steaming in for another wet spell. Dry and wet spells are intertwined into the scheme of things with unmistakable growing intensity. Dense and deep clouds locked in the Himalayan valley spend themselves out in the plains, including Rajasthan, where rainfall normals are very low,” he said. 

GP Sharma, President, Meteorology and Climate Change at Skymet Weather, a leading private forecaster, said there are some other inexplicable reasons as to why weather over Rajasthan, for instance, has become highly unpredictable. 

Rainfall normals over West Rajasthan, desert, for the most part, is at least half of East Rajasthan. Climatology and terrain impact weather differently. This has deprived Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal and the North-East of their due as evident even today, Sharma said. 

Progress in sowing

Rajasthan, the largest producer of bajra, moong and guar, has received unusually high rainfall this year despite facing a 49 per cent deficit during the first fortnight of the monsoon. Improved precipitation in the second fortnight helped improve the overall rainfall for the month and it received normal 55 mm rain. 

In July, the rainfall was 67 per cent higher (from LPA 161.4 mm). The sowing of kharif crops also progressed accordingly. But there are other concerns that have cropped up. 

Until June 22, the progressive sowing of all kharif crops was 49 per cent lower than the year-ago period and by June 29 the acreage increased by 29 per cent. The momentum built up in the last week of June continued throughout July as sowing improved further.

By July 19, the kharif sowing peaked, with the area increasing by 84 per cent from the year-ago period. But by July 26, the rise had dropped to 52 per cent and as per the latest data kharif sowing in the State is 161 lh, up by 24 per cent from the year-ago period. Ninety-eight per cent of the official target has been covered, though.

The sowing area under cereals (paddy, millets and maize) has crossed the target of 61.7 lh, while 17 per cent more area in pulses will have to be covered to meet the target of 40.8 lh. 

‘White grub’ pest

In oilseeds, 96.5 per cent of the targetted 24.1 lh has been covered, but soyabean and groundnut acreage has been nearly at par with their targetted area as of August 10. The area under bajra is up by 24 per cent and has exceeded the targeted 44 lh.  However, some concerns have emerged of late.

Among various districts, Jaipur, Jhunjhunu and Sikar are some of the key regions in which bajra is grown. These areas have received more than normal rain this year, which is good for the crop. But, farmers in Jaipur district are worried as the “white grub” pest has infected the crop, stunting the growth to 2-3 feet from the normal 6 feet by this time.

“We were expecting a good crop this year and even went for sowing as soon as the rain started since prices of cattle feed are very high. However, the pest attack has prevented the growth of the plant this time and we have already tried whatever pesticides were suggested,” said Omkar Mal Jat, sarpanch of Nimeda in Jaipur district. 

He said some officials (of both Centre and State) have already visited the affected areas and have not yet provided any solution. However, JS Sandhu, Vice-Chancellor of SKN Agriculture University, Jobner, said bajra may not be affected as much as groundnut, which is also prone to white grub attack. Sandhu said bajra normally recovers as it is a multiple tiller plant, unlike maize which is a single tiller. Crop failure in bajra is also rare, he said.

On the area of the pulse remaining below target as of August 10, Rampal Jat of Kisan Mahapanchayat said due to continuous rain in the growing belt, some farmers may have shifted to other crops such as soyabean. But, one of the key concerns is the price realisation for moong and urad, which are currently ruling below the minimum support price (MSP). “If the government ensures procurement, without any quantitative restriction, more farmers will opt for pulses,” Rampal said.

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