It has been a dismal year for drought-affected farmers in Tamil Nadu. Many of them could not sow their crops in the samba season, which is dependent on the north-east monsoon in October-December and is the state’s main cropping season. Tamil Nadu received its worst rainfall in 140 years during last year’s retreating north-east monsoon, which is the source of 60% of the annual rainfall in many of its coastal districts.

The farmers’ despair was made clear when a small group of them traveled to Delhi in March and staged a dramatic 40-day protest there – shaving off half their heads, stuffing dead rats in their mouths, stripping naked and even drinking their own urine to draw the Central government’s attention to their demands. They wanted loan waivers and better prices for their produce.

Now, data from the Union government has revealed the extent to which agriculture in Tamil Nadu was affected this past year.

There was a sharp decline of 41.5% in the area sown in the state in 2016-2017. And according to a report in The Times of India, paddy procurement in the same period fell even more drastically by 84.4%, more than double the decline in cropping area. At the same time, the news report said, other paddy-growing states such as Chhattisgarh, Punjab and Haryana showed an overall increase in paddy procurement – which rose 6.7% from 304.1 lakh tonnes to 324.8 lakh tonnes in the past year.

So, why has Tamil Nadu suffered this steep fall in paddy procurement?

Why Tamil Nadu

“It is clear that overall rainfall was far below normal in all the districts of the state in 2016-2017,” said Shashanka Bhide, economist and director of the Madras Institute of Development Studies. “Even in the irrigated belt of Cauvery delta, there was no water for irrigation. Therefore, it is expected that production of paddy would be lower both because of decline in area planted and also yields.”

Bhide said the fall in procurement should be understood keeping in view this decline in production. “Procurement would depend on production,” he explained. “Therefore, greater decline in procurement than in area would imply that yield would also be lower than normal.”

This could either mean that farmers planted their crops but had poor per-acre yields, or that the yield was more or less the same but they kept the rice for self-consumption.

Officials at the Tamil Nadu government’s agriculture department said data on paddy production in the state in the last year is still being compiled and would be released in July or August.