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Monday, July 23, 2001

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Rain gods smile on kharif crops -- Area under rice, cotton, pulses, oilseeds soars

Harish Damodaran

NEW DELHI, July 22

AN agriculture-led economic recovery seems well round the corner, with acreages under most kharif crops registering massive increases over last year's drought-restrained levels.

According to the latest information compiled by the Agriculture Ministry's National Crop Forecasting Centre, the excellent spell of south-west monsoon rains so far have led to substantial expansion of area sown under kharif paddy, coarse cereals, pulses, oilseeds and cotton.

The area coverage reported so far under rice this year has been 93.45 lakh hectares, which is higher than last year's corresponding acreage of 84.33 lakh hectares. The normal area under kharif rice is about 403 lakh hectares. The higher acreage reported is notwithstanding the fact that paddy area in both Punjab and Haryana -- the two States which together contributed almost half of the rice to the Central pool -- has fallen and shifted towards cotton.

In Punjab, where paddy transplanting takes place by early-June, about 83 per cent of the normal area of 24.7 lakh hectares have been covered so far, which is about two lakh hectares less compared to the same period last year. Similarly, in Haryana, out o f the normal area of 10.3 lakh hectares, about 6.5 lakh hectares has been covered, which is 0.4 lakh hectares below last year's acreage.

On the other hand, the progressive area under cotton has been reported at six lakh hectares and 6.1 lakh hectares in Punjab and Haryana, which not only marks an increase over last year's level by 1.3 and 0.5 lakh hectares respectively, but even higher th an the normal acreage of 5.9 lakh hectares each for these two States.

The country's overall cotton coverage has so far touched 46.85 lakh hectares, which is higher than last year's level of 28.35 lakh hectares. While the normal area under cotton is about 91 lakh hectares, sowing is more-or-less complete in the northern Sta tes, while still continuing in others such as Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. The coverage in Rajasthan has, however, been only 2.95 lakh hectares so far, compared to last year's level of 4.65 lakh hectares and the nor mal acreage of 6.2 lakh hectares.

The improvement in cotton area this year is significant because the country has been importing huge quantities in the last few years. Imports, which amounted to just 0.30 lakh bales (of 170 kg each) in 1996-97, rose to 4.13 lakh bales, 7.87 lakh bales an d 22.01 lakh bales in the subsequent three years, while being estimated at 16 lakh bales in 2000-01. Over this period, production fell from a peak of 142.3 lakh bales in 1996-97 to 108.5 lakh bales in 1997-98, 122.9 lakh bales in 1998-99, 116.4 lakh bale s in 1999-2000 and a mere 93.9 lakh bales last year.

A similar area recovery seems underway in pulses and oilseeds, which have also witnessed huge domestic production shortfalls, necessitating large-scale imports in recent years. While the normal acreage under kharif pulses is around 102 lakh hectares, fav ourable rainfall in central, west and north-west India has resulted in an area coverage of 42.76 lakh hectares so far, which is roughly seven lakh hectares higher than last year's corresponding level. The progressive area under arhar (pigeonpea) has expa nded from 12.99 lakh hectares to 17.23 lakh hectares, with coverage under other kharif pulses similarly rising from 22.48 lakh hectares to 25.53 lakh hectares.

But the most spectacular recovery has been in oilseeds, with 85.78 lakh hectares of the normal area of 156 lakh hectares under kharif oilseeds already being covered, as against just 50.56 lakh hectares during this period last year. The area under groundn ut has so far touched 26.88 lakh hectares, which is a substantial 18.45 lakh hectares more than last year's corresponding acreage. Similarly, soyabean coverage has been 49.9 lakh hectares, against last year's 24.1 lakh hectares. The normal area under kha rif groundnut and soyabean are 59 lakh hectares and 62 lakh hectares, respectively.

The improvement in oilseed acreages has been made possible mainly by the excess rains in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. The Saurashtra-Kutch region has received 327 mm of rain during the current monsoon season till July 18, compared to the long period avera ge (LPA) of 237 mm, with rainfall in the rest of Gujarat amounting to 513 mm against the LPA of 393 mm.

In the main soyabean belt of western MP, too, the cumulative rainfall of 359 mm since June 1 has been 23 per cent higher than the corresponding LPA of 291 mm. All this has helped in the timely sowing of these crops. Already 93 per cent of Gujarat's norma l groundnut area of 18 lakh hectares has been covered so far, compared to last year's progressive coverage of 43 per cent.

The sowing of coarse cereals is also progressing very well, with 84.76 lakh hectares already being covered as against 31.83 lakh hectares during this time last year. The normal area under kharif coarse cereals is about 231 lakh hectares, including 93 lak h hectares for bajra, 50 lakh hectares for jowar and 57 lakh hectares for maize.

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