Setting the stage for kharif sowing

G Chandrashekhar | Updated on May 22, 2020

With the onset of the South-West monsoon over the Kerala coast only a few days away, it is heartening that the India Meteorological Department has forecast a normal monsoon this year. That by itself should come as a huge relief to everyone, including policymakers.

A question currently uppermost in the minds of agriculture value chain participants is whether farmers will take interest in planting kharif crops (paddy, coarse cereals, oilseeds, pulses, cotton, etc) in the same acreage seen in recent years.

Farmers’ grouse

The question is important because in a number of cases, growers have not received the minimum support price (MSP) from the State agencies purchasing from them. Without doubt, agencies such as Cotton Corporation of India have done a commendable job of purchasing as much as a quarter of cotton production, benefiting a large number of growers. But the same cannot be said about other crops such as pulses and oilseeds.

The recent reform intentions expressed by the Finance Minister are important, especially for their potential to deliver benefits to growers. However, one is not sure if even a minuscule number of farmers are aware of the government’s reform intentions. So, they are unlikely to be swayed. Be that as it may, there is reason to believe farmers will continue to plant the crops they have been planting traditionally. However, given that their cash reserves are running low because of low price realisation, there is the risk that they may not be in a position to spend sufficient amounts of money on input management or agronomic practices. Of course, the government has announced ₹2-lakh crore liquidity boost in the form of concessional credit through Kisan Credit Cards to PM-Kisan scheme beneficiaries; but how soon the information will reach farmers and how many will benefit is anybody’s guess.

In the event, yields may be lower than usual. Even in the best of times, yields of many crops in the country is far below the global average because of outdated farming systems and lack of technology infusion.

Preparing the field

Anecdotal reports suggest preparatory work for kharif planting is going on apace. There were reports of impediments to distribution of inputs such as seeds in April due to the lockdown; but the easing of restrictions on agri-related activities has helped.

As of today (May 21), there is no announcement about minimum support price (MSP) for kharif crops. Why the decision cannot be announced well before the start of the sowing season is a mystery. Announcement of MSP after the start of sowing serves little purpose. Of course, it is another matter that MSP in its present form has begun to outlive its utility. Growers hardly benefit because of MSP announcement nor are they influenced by the hike in price.

Policy support

Assuming that the cultivation of kharif crops turns out to be normal, it is important that policymakers get into a state of readiness to support growers during kharif harvest. Price support is key. It will make sense to enlist the services of professionally run private warehousing companies also in procurement and storage. A set of guidelines will have to be designed for the purpose.

The writer is a policy commentator and agribusiness specialist. Views are personal

Published on May 22, 2020

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