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Rice Shortage In India

Context

While overall crop coverage has increased since last year, rice crop coverage has decreased. One of the causes is a lack of rainfall in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. However, adequate stocks and widespread cultivation indicate that there should be no cause for concern.

Relevance

GS Paper 3:

Agriculture– Major cropping patterns in various parts of the country, different types of irrigation and irrigation systems storage, transport and marketing of agricultural produce and issues and related constraints

Mains Question

How has the recent climate change affected cropping patterns? Explain the benefits and drawbacks of climate-resilient crops in the context of climate change. (250 Words)


Facts about Crops

  • The revival of the southwest monsoon this month has resulted in the total area sown under kharif crops not only recovering, but even exceeding last year’s coverage from June to mid-July.
  • However, paddy (rice) acreage was 12.50 lakh hectares (lh) as of July 15, down 17.4 percent from 155.53 lh the previous year.

Is this cause for concern?

  • On the surface, not much, as government godowns held more than 47.2 million tonnes (mt) of rice as of July 1. These were nearly three-and-a-half times the minimum level of stocks required to meet the quarter’s “operational” (public distribution system) and “strategic reserve” (exigency) requirements. Rice stocks are still close to last year’s highs.
  • That comfort does not extend to wheat, where public stocks have fallen from all-time highs to 14-year lows in less than a year.
  • Inflation-affected policymakers would fear a repeat of the wheat story in rice.
  • In wheat, a single bad crop — the one scorched by the March-April 2022 heat wave — caused all of the damage, reducing stocks to just above the minimum buffer.

The stakes are higher in rice: 

  • it is India’s largest agricultural crop (accounting for more than 40% of total foodgrain output), and the country is also the world’s largest exporter (a record 21.21 mt valued at $9.66 billion was shipped out during the fiscal year ended March 2022).
  • Unlike wheat, import options for rice are limited due to any production shortfall, despite India’s own share of global trade in the cereal being more than 40%.

Why has acreage decreased?

  • Farmers start by planting paddy seeds in nurseries, where they grow into young plants.
  • These seedlings are then uprooted and replanted in the main field, which is typically 10 times the size of the nursery seed bed, 25-35 days later.
  • Nursery sowing is typically done prior to the monsoon rains. Farmers must wait for their arrival before beginning transplantation, which necessitates the field being “puddled,” or tilled in standing water.
  • To control weed growth in the early stages of the crop, the water depth must be maintained at 4-5 cm for the first three weeks or so after transplanting.
  • All of this would be impossible without the monsoon, which has been exceptionally good this year. From June 1 to July 17, the country received 353.7 mm of rain, 12.7 percent more than the “normal” historical average for this period.
  • Despite this, a vast paddy-growing belt stretching from Uttar Pradesh to West Bengal has received very little rain.
  • Cumulative rainfall in West UP has been 55.5 percent below the long-term average, and in East UP, Bihar, Jharkhand, and Gangetic West Bengal, it has been 70 percent, 45.8 percent, 48.9 percent, and 45.1 percent, respectively.
  • Due to insufficient rainfall, farmers in UP had planted only 26.98 lh of paddy by July 15, compared to 35.29 lh at the same time last season.
  • Farmers in Bihar (from 8.77 lh to 6.06 lh), West Bengal (4.68 lh to 3.94 lh), and Jharkhand (2.93 lh to 1.02 lh) reported lower acreages as well. Those in Odisha, Chhattisgarh, and eastern Madhya Pradesh have also been affected, though the gap should narrow as the monsoon season approaches.

What is the gravity of the situation?

  • It certainly appears so in UP, where the western and eastern subdivisions have received only 90 mm and 79.6 mm of rain, respectively.
  • In his area, paddy nursery sowing takes place from June 1 to June 10, and transplanting takes place from July 1 to July 10.
  • This time, there was some rain near the end of June, but not much after that. “The seedlings should leave the nurseries in 25-35 days, after which they will age and have insufficient time to grow in the main field.” “How will farmers transplant if there is no water?” he asked.
  • Interestingly, farmers with access to basic irrigation in eastern Uttar Pradesh use the ‘Sanda’ double-transplanting method of paddy cultivation under delayed rainfall conditions.
  • In this case, after 25 days in the nursery, the seedlings are uprooted and replanted in a puddled field that is only about twice the size of the former.
  • After establishment, the plants begin tillering and are thus rejuvenated for the next 10-15 days. When it rains, they are uprooted and replanted in the main field, which is ten times the size of the original nursery.
  • Sanda paddy yields are said to be higher than regular one-step transplanting. Because the Sanda plants have already tillered, their establishment in the main field would be near 100 percent with little mortality.

So, is there going to be a rice crisis?

  • Not right now. To begin, the India Meteorological Department predicts that the current monsoon trough, which is active and south of its normal position, will “very likely gradually shift northwards from tonight (Sunday)”. This should provide much-needed relief to farmers in the Gangetic plains in the coming days.
  • Second, unlike wheat, which is grown only in a few states north of the Vindhyas, paddy cultivation occurs across a larger geographical area. Rice is also a kharif (monsoon) and rabi (winter-spring) crop.
  • As a result, losses in one area or season may be offset by gains in another. Everyone in wheat, from farmers to traders to policymakers, was caught off guard by the sudden rise in temperatures after mid-March, which reduced grain yields by a fifth or more.
  • Rice is less likely to reveal major negative surprises. And with current stocks, it should be doable.

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