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Falling rice acreage in eastern India is symptom of a larger problem with environmental, equity, fiscal dimensions

Less area getting planted under paddy in UP, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal is, nevertheless, disturbing from a different standpoint. This whole belt, together with Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Assam, has sufficient groundwater resources for sustainable rice cultivation.

Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, kharif season, kharif crops, rice farming, Indian express, Opinion, Editorial, Current AffairsThe seedlings from those have aged or gone dry and are not suitable for transplanting. Farmers will, then, have to undertake fresh nursery sowing of shorter duration varieties, which would yield less grain per acre.

Farmers have planted about 16.4 per cent less area so far under rice compared to last year at this time, despite overall kharif crop acreage going up. The reason is rainfall deficiency of 44-59 per cent across Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Gangetic West Bengal, even as the country as a whole has recorded 11 per cent surplus precipitation from June 1 to July 24. The monsoon’s revival in much of the South Peninsula, Central, West and Northwest India has helped boost sowings of most kharif oilseeds, pulses, coarse cereals and cotton. However, poor rains in the Gangetic plains have led to delayed transplanting of paddy by farmers, many of whom had even raised nurseries during the first half of June. The seedlings from those have aged or gone dry and are not suitable for transplanting. Farmers will, then, have to undertake fresh nursery sowing of shorter duration varieties, which would yield less grain per acre.

All this will translate into lower rice production, although it is possible that the losses in eastern India may be significantly offset by output from other regions. Rice, unlike wheat, is not only grown over a wider geography both south and north of the Vindhyas, but also in the kharif as well as rabi season. Given that, the wheat story — of an unexpected decline due to a sudden surge in temperatures from mid-March — is less likely to be repeated in rice. Also, with current stocks in government godowns being three-and-a-half times the required minimum buffer, the supply situation in rice should be quite manageable. If at all restrictions on exports are necessary down the line, these should be in the form of tariff or minimum sale price, as opposed to outright ban on shipments.

Less area getting planted under paddy in UP, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal is, nevertheless, disturbing from a different standpoint. This whole belt, together with Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Assam, has sufficient groundwater resources for sustainable rice cultivation. But the absence of irrigation facilities, whether canals or three-phase electricity supply at consistent 440 volts, means that farmers there are mostly at the mercy of the monsoon rains. This is in contrast to Punjab, Haryana or Telangana farmers, who are able to grow paddy on the back of free power and assured government procurement, even while sucking their water tables dry. The water footprint of rice production is lower in the eastern states, whose farmers, unfortunately, receive little by way of irrigation or minimum price support. That many of them may end up not planting paddy this time is a symptom of a larger problem with environmental, equity and fiscal dimensions.

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First published on: 25-07-2022 at 04:30:32 am
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