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Rabi season prospects | The Financial Express

The resilience of India’s agricultural sector has been a positive factor in the India growth story. During the ongoing rabi season, the average area sown for wheat is up by 25%, to 25.5 million hectares as of December 9, from a year earlier. Area under oilseeds, too, is at record levels. All of this augurs well for bumper rabi crops that can offset a not-so-bountiful kharif output in 2022-23 (July-June). Rabi sowing operations commence in October and harvesting takes place from April onwards. Agriculture and allied activities were estimated to grow at 4.5% and 4.6% after adjusting for inflation in Q1 and Q2 FY23, respectively—the highest in 10 quarters since January-March 2020—although the first advance estimates of crop production indicated a lower kharif output during the current agricultural year. This was largely due to deficient monsoon rainfall during June, drought conditions in several states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal and excessive late season precipitation. But, the last mentioned factor has improved soil moisture conditions and reservoir levels, which are favourable for rabi sowing operations. As on December 1, live storage in 143 reservoirs was 83% of capacity, 105% of live storage a year ago and 120% of the average storage during the last 10 years according to the Central Water Commission. For such reasons, the current uptrend in winter sowing may well enable higher agricultural growth this fiscal but not as much as the Q2 number indicated.

Also Read: Govt expects good crop production in rabi season; sowing area up 24 lakh hectares so far: Narendra Singh Tomar

From a food security perspective, the higher sowing of wheat will ensure comfortable buffer stocks, over the norm, but there are imponderables looming over the horizon. While food inflation is cooling down, market prices of wheat rose by 17.6% in October and are ruling higher than minimum support prices. To curb this, the government is considering offloading 2-3 million tonnes of wheat under the open market sale scheme from the Food Corporation of India’s buffer stocks. The FCI had earlier stopped such sales for the first time in over a decade in view of the sharp drop in procurement in the 2022-23 rabi marketing season and additional allocations under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana. The latest estimates are that wheat stocks with the FCI will be 11.3 mt as against the norm of 7.4 mt by April 2023 assuming that PMGKAY will not be extended beyond December. A member of the official think-tank Niti Aaayog, Ramesh Chand, has suggested that the government should discontinue this scheme and liquidate the grain allocated to tame food inflation. However, climate-change-related heat stress could upset these favourable rabi tidings like last year when scorching temperatures in March resulted in premature ripening and shriveling of grains.

Also Read: Rabi sowing up 70% in Gujarat

Nevertheless, as overall area sown under various crops like wheat, pulses, oilseed and coarse cereals are up by 15% to 52.6 million hectares over a year ago, higher rabi production is likely to boost farmer incomes. Higher incomes, in turn, will stimulate demand for fast moving consumer goods, tractors etc and raise overall industrial and GDP growth with a lag of a year, although Q2 numbers do not indicate any such buoyancy in these high frequency indicators. There is a need to also step up livestock and other allied agricultural activities for robust growth in agriculture to reinforce the current momentum of overall economic growth.

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