Though the acreage of all kharif (summer sown) crops together in 2018 crossed last year’s mark, credit of higher sown area went to increase in the acreage of rice (2%), oilseeds (3%) and sugarcane (4%).
While farmers gave a thumbs down to ‘nutri-cereals’, pulses, cotton and jute & mesta also reported dip in their acreage. But coarse cereals (maize plus nutri-cereals) reported the highest dip among them.
Asked why farmers continue to prefer sugarcane which consumes lot of water, farm expert and president of Kisan Jagriti Manch, Sudhir Panwar, said, “Sugarcane is preferred over alternative crops because of higher returns. The Commission for Agricultural Costs & Prices (CACP) in its latest report noted that sugarcane reported 245% returns over paddy plus wheat and 252% over cotton plus wheat.”
On change of cropping pattern, Panwar, former member of the Uttar Pradesh planning commission, said, “Moreover, farmers cannot change crops overnight because of heavy investment in specialised implements (used for cultivation and harvest).”
The government has, on its part, taken multiple measures to promote coarse cereals. Before announcing substantial hike in MSPs of these cereals in July, the Centre had in April notified Jowar, Bajra, Ragi and small millets as ‘nutri-cereals’ in order to promote it and allowed its inclusion in the public distribution system (PDS) for improving nutritional support.
Besides, India has also written to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, asking it to declare 2019 as ‘International Year of Millets’ in order to create awareness among consumers and farmers due to its nutritional value and climate-resilient properties.
But farmers are still not turning to cultivation of ‘nutri-cereals’ in a big way. Officials in the agriculture ministry believe that mere announcement of higher MSP won’t serve the purpose unless it is backed by assured procurement and other support.
Agriculture scientist B S Dwivedi of Indian Agricultural Research Institute told TOI, “It needs a holistic package which includes ensuring access of high yielding varieties and better farm practices to farmers through extension services.”