Further underscoring the continuing agrarian distress across the state just months before the assembly polls scheduled later this year, Maharashtra’s annual Economic Survey report has pegged growth in the agriculture sector at just 0.4 per cent for 2018-19. In five of the last seven years, the state has reported depressed growth in the farm sector on account of low rainfall and poor irrigation infrastructure.
Advance estimates for 2018-19 in the Economic Survey tabled in the Maharashtra House Monday show that real GSVA (Gross State Value Added, at basic prices) in Maharashtra’s crop sector is actually pegged to register an 8 per cent decline.
The real GSVA of the overall ‘agriculture and allied activities’ sector will record a 0.4 per cent growth, the Survey stated, in comparison to 2017-18 on account of the 13.9 per cent growth in livestock, 16.4 per cent growth in forestry/logging and a 3.4 per cent growth in fishing/aquaculture.
The 8 per cent dip in value in the crop sector is the worst since 2014-15, also a drought year, when it fell 16.7 per cent compared to the previous year. In 2015-16, growth in GSVA in the crop sector was a negative 7.6 per cent. In 2016-17 and 2017-18, GSVA growth rate in crops was 25.2 per cent and 0.8 per cent respectively.
The sluggish agricultural growth and the decline in the crop sector point to poor returns to farmers and a slowing down of inputs as drought-constrained farmers struggle to subsist on agriculture. Fifty-three per cent of Maharashtra’s population rely on this sector for their livelihood, meaning that healthy agricultural growth is essential to tackle chronic poverty in the countryside.
The report states, “The share of this sector in the total Gross State Value Added (GSVA) is declining over the period resulting in cascading impact on other sectors like agro-processing industries, trade, hotel and restaurants.” It also says a slew of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals is directly linked to this sector.
Drought-like condition in state
The sharp 8 per cent drop in crop sector revenue was expected given the drought-like situation in the state. The state received 73% rain during the year, and rabi crop output, which accounts for roughly one-fourth of total output, is estimated to be 65% lower.
“The implication of these numbers is that the structural stagnation of agriculture in Maharashtra has not been addressed, and successive governments have not bothered to find remedies to the distress that is evidenced in continuing farmer suicides,” said economist Prof H M Desarda, a former member of the state’s planning commission.
“The CM parrots the Centre’s promises and says Maharashtra will be a trillion dollar economy soon but farmers are kept on crumbs and subsidies. The irrigation sector is in shambles, and one of the promises that this government came to power on was to reassess the irrigation sector. That has not been done.” He said the state, meanwhile, has continued to concentrate on select crops, primarily sugarcane, a politically expedient move as major political satraps have stakes here.
While kharif season sowing was completed on 151.03 lakh hectares, about 0.05 per cent more than in the previous year, average rainfall in 2018-19 was only 73.6 per cent of the normal. With not even a quarter of the state served by an irrigation network, and with over 70 per cent of the state’s geographical area lying in a semi-arid region, the report squarely blames the poor performance in the agriculture sector on water scarcity. With a failure of the ‘departing monsoon’ as the September-October rainfall is called, the area under rabi crops fell by about 50 per cent in 2018-19 compared to the previous year.
According to data, production of pulses is set to register a dramatic fall of 35 per cent while production of cereals will dip 6 per cent. Among oilseeds, production of groundnut, sesamum and sunflower is registering a fall of 33 per cent, 58 per cent and 74 per cent, respectively. Soyabean production is to register a growth of 20 per cent. Meanwhile, cotton and sugarcane production are both up, by 17 per cent and 10 per cent, respectively.
Sugarcane, meanwhile, has also witnessed a fresh surge in area under cultivation, notwithstanding previous efforts by the state government to disincentivise cultivation of cane in water-scarce regions. From 9,02,000 hectares last year, in 2018-19 the area under sugarcane grew to 11,63,000 hectares, a 29 per cent rise, also the largest rise in area under any single crop since the previous year.
Production of jowar is pegged at having fallen by 50 per cent in the kharif season, and by 72 per cent in the rabi season. This has contributed to a widespread fodder shortage especially in Marathwada and north Maharashtra. Until the arrival of the monsoon this year, the state government had to operate at least 1,501 fodder camps across the state, housing more than 10 lakh animals.