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Friday, January 28, 2022

Acreage of gram cultivation in Gujarat crosses 1 million hectares

As per the latest weekly sowing data released by the state government, gram (chana) sowing stands at 10.54 lakh hectare (lh) with a couple of more reporting weeks to go.

Written by Gopal Kateshiya | Rajkot |
Updated: January 10, 2022 1:19:14 pm
A chana field in a village in Rajkot. Express File Photo

GRAM ACREAGE in Gujarat has gone past one million hectares this Rabi season, the highest recorded in the state so far, as stable prices and low cultivation costs have persuaded farmers to go for the pulse crop at the expense of cumin seeds, among other crops.

As per the latest weekly sowing data released by the state government, gram (chana) sowing stands at 10.54 lakh hectare (lh) with a couple of more reporting weeks to go. This is more than double the previous three years’ average acreage of 4.66 lh and around 29 percent higher as compared to 8.19 lh recorded during Rabi season 2020-21.

In terms of percentage, it is 226 per cent of the last three years’ average and 128 per cent of the 2020-21 season. The increase of 2.35 lh is the highest, both in terms of percentage and in absolute terms for any crop in Gujarat this season.

The biggest expansion of 2.10 lh in gram sowing is reported from 11 districts of the Saurashtra region. In this water-starved area, farmers have sown chana in 8.20 lh so far this season as compared to 6.10 lh last year. In the eight districts of the central Gujarat region, the area under this pulse crop has expanded from 11.24 lh to 12.42 lh, an increase of 1.18 lh.

In the six districts of the north Gujarat region, chana acreage has gone up from 65,600 hectare (ha) to 79,500 ha, a net increase of 13,900 ha. However, it has gone down marginally—from 30,300 ha to 29,300 ha –in seven districts of south Gujarat, the data shows.

At 10.54 lh, chana is the second-biggest crop in the state after wheat whose sowing area stands at 12.36 lh. Wheat acreage is around 104 percent of the average but around 90,000 ha lower as compared to the corresponding period last year.

Overall, the state has reported sowing in 46.25 lh, which is around 20 percent higher than normal. However, after wheat and chana, the acreage of cumin seeds (jeera), the third-largest crop, is just 3.07 lh. The jeera acreage is down by around 1.6 lh as compared to the previous season’s mark of 4.69 lh and just 70 percent of the last three years’ average 4.34 lh.

The chana acreage of Gujarat accounts for around 10 per cent of 109.44 lh recorded in India as of January 7. The all-India sowing is also 2.27 lh higher as compared to the previous season’s 107.17 lh.

This year, chana has emerged as the single largest crop in 11 of 33 districts of Gujarat. In the process, it has relegated wheat, a traditional widely cultivated crop, to a second position with dominance in 10 districts. Rajkot (1.38 lh), Junagadh (1.14 lh), Amreli (1.08 lh), Jamnagar (1.02 lh), Devbhumi Dwarka (77,600 ha), Surendranagar (63,700 ha), Porbandar (53,800 ha), Bhavnagar (49,100 ha) and Botad (40,300 ha) are the Saurashtra districts where chana is the largest crop. It is also the largest crop in Patan (49,100 ha) in north Gujarat and Valsad (3000 ha) in south Gujarat.

“Growing jeera is too risky for small-holder farmers like me as it is an extremely weather-sensitive crop that may fail entirely in the event of unseasonal rains or persistent overcast conditions and fog. On the other hand, sowing chana means more or less an assured harvest. Therefore, I don’t try jeera,” says Ramesh Mungra (40), a farmer having 12 bigha (6.25 bigha make one hectare) land in Nani Banugar village in Jamnagar.

Lower cultivation costs and good market prices have persuaded many jeera farmers to switch over to chana. “Last year, I sowed jeera in six bigha and harvested nine quintals of the spice seeds crop and sold at Rs 12,500 per quintal. On the other hand, my harvest from a four-bigha chana field was around 16 quintals and realised an average Rs 4,700 per quintal. So, my effective earning was around Rs 18,500 per bigha from both the fields but cultivation cost for jeera was three times higher as compared to chana as one needs to spray lots of pesticides to protect it from fungal diseases,” says Haresh Jatarapa, a 10-bigha farmer from Madava village in Rajkot.

The Central government has increased the minimum support price (MSP) of chana from Rs 4,000 per quintal in 2016-17 to Rs 5,230 in 2022-23, an increase of 30 per cent in six years. Officers of the state agriculture department say farmers realised an average Rs 4,500 per quintal in the open market in 2020-21.

“At that price, chana becomes an attractive option even for wheat growers. The cultivation cost for these crops and per bigha realisation remains the same. But chana can be harvested around 10 days before wheat. That allows early sowing of summer crops and harvesting them before monsoon arrives in June,” DG Rathod, district agricultural officer of Junagadh, where chana acreage has overtaken that of wheat this season, says.

Chana processors say government policies and stable domestic demand have ensured that prices of this pulse crop remain on a rising curve. “The government has been not only increasing MSP substantially but also procuring chana at MSP every year for the last five years while increasing tariffs on the import of this pulse crop simultaneously. Till three-four years ago, we used to meet half of our demand through imports from Tanzania, Australia, Canada etc. But of late, domestic production of chana has increased and demand has remained stable.

Therefore, processors have cut down on imports and are offering good rates to farmers,” says Junagadh-based Sanjay Koradiya, director of Venu Enterprise Private Limited and two other private firms that market besan under the brand names Apple, Gulab and Dollar.

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