India’s Farming Minister Radha Mohan Singh recently announced that India is expected to achieve a record food grain harvest of 270 million tons this year, up 18 million tons from last year, due to a well distributed monsoon and an increase in the area under food grain cultivation from 101 million hectares to 105 million hectares.
These production increases are led by expected record harvests for rice, oilseeds and pulses with rice and oilseed production expected to reach a record 93 million and 23 million tons (up 2 and 40 percent) respectively in the current kharif season. Similarly, pulse production, according to the agricultural ministry, is expected to increase significantly to a record 21 or 22 million tons for the entire year. This is significantly higher than the 16.5 million tons produced last year and the highest level of production since 1957. The increase in pulse production is driven by an increase in the area under cultivation. Despite this record harvest, the domestic demand for pulses will likely outstrip domestic supply and India will continue to import pulses, which reached 5 million tons last year. Meanwhile, the production of coarse grains, cotton and oilseeds are expected to increase marginally while the production of sugarcane and jute is expected to decrease marginally due to a decrease in the area under cultivation.
According to India’s meteorological department, as of September 21st, the country has experienced a 5 percent rainfall deficit for this monsoon season. Despite this shortfall, the meteorological department states that crops have benefited as these rains have been well-distributed and that 86 percent of the country has received normal to excess precipitation. This comes as a welcome relief for millions of Indian farmers as agricultural production is extremely dependant on the monsoon and two consecutive years of significant (12 and 14 percent) rainfall deficits have impacted agricultural yields negatively.
Predictions of a good harvest are also likely to reduce the real price of food. Dr. P. K. Joshi, the South-Asia Director for International Food Policy Research Institute, expects food inflation to come down and vegetable prices to stabilise in the coming months. This is likely to support nutrition and benefit the Indian consumer as well as diverse and nutritious food becomes more affordable.
The monsoon has supported a rise in water levels in India’s reservoirs which, as of mid-September, were at 68 percent of full capacity. This is 17 percent higher than last year’s level and just below the 10 year average. Higher water levels also signal the prospect of a positive rabi harvest as it is mainly irrigated. Despite increases in reservoir levels concerns surrounding long-term water scarcities and water supplies due to increased water demand, and supply concerns due to the rapid depletion of groundwater levels as well as climatic change have increased in recent years. This culminated in a declaration by the Government, prior to the monsoon season, that 330 million people were affected by drought.
There is increasing recognition that India’s current irrigation systems based on canals and the inundation of farmland is inefficient and unsustainable in the long term. By contrast, scientists from the Indian Institute of Water Management highlight that piped and micro irrigation systems would allow crops to be cultivated using significantly less water. They found that the use of micro-irrigation techniques uses around 30-40 percent less water than conventional techniques. Additionally, there is increasing recognition that the amount of water in aquifers and groundwater levels are diminishing rapidly across India. For instance, a recent study in Madhya Pradesh found that groundwater reservoirs were depleting much faster than they were being replenished due to high levels of water demand for agriculture. The study proposes a local water security management plan which, based on improved rainwater harvesting techniques coupled with sustainable irrigation techniques, could sustainably meet the needs of local populations.
By: Bas Paris