With just a week or so left for the sowing season to end, it is clear that the rabi crop hasn’t taken a big hit due to demonetisation. The area sown till Friday was 60.2 million hectares, up more than 6% from the comparable period last year and more than 2.7% higher than what is described as ‘normal’ for the period.
Sowing of wheat, the crop that accounts for about half of the rabi area, recovered mostly during the last one month. While area under wheat was down 8% from normal on December 2, it was 3% more than normal on Friday, according to data released by the agriculture ministry.
Pulses — area under gram, lentil, urad etc was up 9% on Friday, while that under oilseeds including groundnut, mustard and sunflower was marginally up. According to sources, sowing has so far been completed in close to 96% of areas usually sown.
However, Ajay Jhakar, chairman, Bharat Krishak Samaj said demonetisation has artificially depressed prices of farm produce by 30% and even farmers banking with cooperative banks have suffered. “Farmers still support demonetisation because of perceived long term gains to the economy, which will translate into tangible benefits for the farm sector,” Jhakar told FE.
Acknowledging that farmers had faced a cash crunch in the first few days following demonetisation, an agriculture ministry official said that a series of measures announced by the government helped in increasing the sowing area. The government allowed farmers to buy seeds using old R500 notes from state-owned companies and asked fertiliser companies to give soil nutrients on credit to farmers.
The government also told Nabard to disburse Rs 21,000 crore to cash-starved farmers, helping them sow winter crops like wheat. Under the scheme, Nabard is disbursing money to farm cooperatives for onward payments to farmers. Besides, the government earlier had gave 60 days more for availing of prompt repayment incentive of 3% to those farmers whose crop loan due dates fall between November 1 and December 31.
Under the interest subvention scheme, farmers get the short-term crop loan of up to R3 lakh for one year at an interest rate of 7% and those repaying on time get the loan at 4%.
In November last year, the government had announced 6-16% increase in the minimum support price (MSP) for rabi crops — wheat, barley, gram masur, mustard and safflower — for the 2016-17 season. MSP is the price at which the government would buy wheat, pulses and oilseeds from farmers.
The ministry has set the country’s grain production target at a record 270.10 million tonne (mt) for the 2016-17 crop year (July-June), up 6.7% from the output of 253.23 mt in 2015-16. The sowing of rabi crops usually begins at the end of October and harvesting starts in April.