Farm challenges

In charts: Farmers across India are sowing more cotton, less oilseeds and pulses

Cotton acreage has increased by 18%.

As September comes around with the promise of the first harvests in a few weeks, data released by the Ministry of Agriculture on Friday indicate that the overall kharif season sowing acreage as of the end of August is 0.5% less than the previous year.

This year, farmers across India have moved decisively away from what were once profit-making crops such as oilseeds as well as jute, whose profit margins continue to remain insignificant. The equilibrium in sowing acreage comes almost entirely from an 18% increase in cotton acreage and 9% increase in sugarcane acreage.

This sowing acreage data only covers oilseeds and foodgrains such as cereals and pulses. Horticulture production, however, has outpaced other foodgrain production for five consecutive years now and is the reason for India’s continued agricultural growth.

Farmers across the country have chosen to invest more in cotton this year. The highest increase comes from Telangana, which has sown 18.24 lakh hectares of cotton against last year’s 12.5 lakh hectares, representing a 5% increase.

At 3.57 lakh hectares, Telangana’s pulses acreage is far lower than that of other states. However, this represents a significant drop of 50% from the previous year, when farmers in the state sowed pulses across 7.13 lakh hectares.

Sowing of pulses has also declined sharply in other parts of central India, including the large producer states of Maharashtra and Karnataka. However, farmers in Rajasthan, which is the largest producer of pulses in India, sowed more pulses this year than the previous year, as did farmers in Madhya Pradesh, with mostly urad being sown.

Much of the decline in pulses comes from arhar, also known as tur. Farmers across the country sowed arhar between 4% less in Madhya Pradesh and 40% less in Telangana. This was one of the crops against whose low market prices farmers had protested in June.

Cereal production continues to remain low. While rice sowing in Assam had peaked in 2015-’16, its acreage dropped sharply the next year and dipped once again this season. Meanwhile, farmers in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest producers of rice, continue to steadily sow more of the cereal.

Oilseeds, particularly soyabean, have also declined by 7% in this sowing season. India’s markets are flooded with cheap oil imports, which has resulted in lower prices for oilseeds across the board, particularly soyabean. Farmers in Madhya Pradesh had gone on strike and protested violently in June after the market price of soyabean dipped below the minimum support price offered by the Union government. Soyabean acreage in this state has dropped by 8%, though some farmers at least seem to have sown more of sesame this year than last.

Groundnut sowing increased in Gujarat, despite distress there due to low prices.

The Agriculture Ministry tracks the historically important jute in its own data field. The fibre continues to decline in West Bengal, which grows half of the jute produced in India. It has also almost dwindled entirely out of Assam and Bihar.

Despite a global slump in sugar markets, sugarcane, a crop known to guzzle water, continues to be popular in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. Acreage increased from 6.33 lakh hectares in 2016-’17 to 9.18 lakh hectares in Maharashtra, and from 21.79 lakh hectares to 22.66 lakh hectares in Uttar Pradesh.

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