Friday, October 11, 2013

Kharif foodgrain output may surpass last year's level: Pawar

Initial estimate falls short of the target of 130.5 million tonnes of foodgrain production
India's foodgrain production is projected to increase marginally in the kharif (summer) season this year to 129.32 million tonnes after more than half the country received normal monsoon rains.

"Total foodgrain production in the kharif season of the 2013-14 crop year is definitely expected to be higher than last year's level at 129.32 million tonnes," Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar told PTI.

Foodgrain output stood at 128.2 million tonnes in last year's kharif season. Sowing in the kharif season starts with the southwest monsoon in June and harvesting from October.

The initial estimate falls short of the target of 130.5 million tonnes of foodgrain production set for the kharif season this year. Rice, pulses, cotton, maize and soyabean are the major kharif crops.

Pawar said production of paddy, the main kharif crop, is projected to exceed last year's level of 92.76 million tonnes as good monsoon rainfall has boosted the acreage and crop prospects. He didn't give an output estimate for paddy.

Except for sugarcane, which was sown in a smaller area, production of other kharif crops looks bright, he said.

Crop-wise production forecast would be provided tomorrow when the first advance estimates of the kharif season for the 2013-14 crop year (July-June) are released, he added.

According to the Indian Meteorological Department, 53 per cent of the country received normal rains during the June to September monsoon season, while one-third of the country got excess rains. The monsoon has withdrawn from the northern and western parts.

A good monsoon is needed for India's economic growth as more than 60 per cent of the population depends on agriculture and allied activities.

The Agriculture Ministry has set a target of 128.5 million tonnes of foodgrain production during the rabi (winter) season, which will start from next month through February 2014.

Extended rains boost rabi crop prospects

India's wheat output to exceed record of 94.9 mt set in 2011-12 crop year (July-June)

Extended rains across the country have led to hopes of a rise in rabi crop acreage. This follows estimates of a bumper kharif crop this year.

At a recent meeting, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar had said India's wheat output was expected to exceed the record of 94.9 million tonnes (mt) in the 2011-12 crop year (July-June). “The government hopes this rabi season, wheat production would achieve another milestone, given the right amount of moisture available in the soil and various interventions by the central and state governments,” he had said.

In the 2012-13 crop year, wheat production had declined to 92.5 mt. Production of other major rabi crops, including barley, mustard seed and chana, is also likely to rise due to the likelihood of higher acreage this season.

This year, the onset of the southwest monsoon was on time and most areas recorded normal rains. However, in some areas in Bihar, Jharkhand and the northeast, rainfall stood at only 20-30 per cent of the long-period average. Pawar said good rains in July and August had raised hopes of a bumper harvest this year. A dry September would help the rice crop mature well in north India, he added.

Against last year's kharif foodgrain production of 128.2 mt, this year's production was pegged at 129.32 mt, according to the first advance estimate.

This year’s rabi crop yield could be very high if winter rains were timely and temperatures favourable, said Prerana Desai, vice-president (research), Kotak Commodity Services.

Prasoon Mathur, a Religare Commodities analyst, said for the rabi crop, the climate had turned favourable, with spells of rains. However, increased soil moisture would be a hurdle to harvesting kharif crops, albeit for a short period. “Initial indications are the rabi crop output will remain high this year,” said Mathur.

“The extended monsoon will be good for the rabi crop and given the monsoon is expected to be favourable, we can continue to see good prospects for agriculture. But given the higher base of last year, our forecast for agri output will be 3- 3.5 per cent this year. Wheat, in particular, would do well,” said Madan Sabnavis, chief economist, CARE Ratings.

Maize down 1.6% on rising inventories

December contract weakened by 1.53%

Maize prices declined by Rs 20 to Rs 1,212 per quintal in futures trade today as traders offloaded their holdings in the wake of weak domestic and overseas markets sentiment.

Marketmen said fresh supply of new crops in the markets increased the stockpiles and put pressure on the prices.

Fall in its prices at global markets also influenced the market sentiment, they said.

At the National Commodity and Derivatives Exchange, maize prices for most active near November month fell by Rs 20, or 1.62%, to Rs 1,212 per quintal, with an open interest of 34,190 lots.

December contract weakened by Rs 19, or 1.53%, to Rs 1,222 per quintal, clocking an open interest of 10,580 lots.

Current October contract eased by Rs 12, or 0.92%, to Rs 1,296 per quintal, depicting an open interest of 9,480 lots.

Maize set to glisten on rains

Summer and winter crop expected to total 25 million tonnes, 10% higher than last year's

Riding the wave of a good monsoon, the maize crop in 2013-14kharif and rabi together is likely to have a record production. Industry and farmers are putting the total crop at 24.5 to 25 million tonnes, by the indications available.

According to data from the ministry of agriculture, the sowing area of maize as on October 2 (kharif) had risen by 11 per cent to 8.22 million hectares against 7.4 million hectares in the year-ago period. Rabi production is 20-25 per cent of total production.

Lured by the high remuneration (Rs 1,350-Rs 1,750 a quintal against the minimum support price of Rs 1,175 a quintal last year) the farmers in all maize-growing states have increased the sowing area.

Experts are expecting an increase of at least 10 per cent in the output this year.

According to Raju Choksi, vice-president (agri-commodities), Anil Nutrients, a higher-than-normal monsoon across major growing states like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh is likely to further push rabi acreage this financial year. By the first advance estimates of the ministry of agriculture, production is expected at 17.8 million tonnes compared to 16 million by the fourth estimates for 2012-13.

“Production is likely to surpass all records this year. We expect bumper crop as the kharif production may cross 18 million tonnes by the time the ministry comes out with the second advance estimates, as the first estimates are usually very conservative,” he said. Choksi added the rabi production last year was 6.25 million tonnes despite a bad monsoon and so this year production was likely to be higher.

The projections of a higher acreage and yield is music to the ears of the starch industry, operating under thin margins. Many units had closed due to high cost.

According to Vishal Majithia, president of All IndiaStarch Manufacturers' Association, the arrivals of kharif crop may get delayed due to the prolonged monsoon. “It may get deferred by a month. So, we may have a flush of arrivals in December instead of November. The excess rain may increase the moisture content in maize and may also destroy the crop. The high moisture content also mars the prospects of exports,” he added.

He conceded the overall crop should be better than last year’s.

Jang Bahadur Singh Sangha, a farmer in Punjab, said the thrust on the diversification of agriculture and the state's efforts have driven farmers towards maize. If the farmers get a price higher than the minimum support price, the trend would continue, he added.

'India much behind China in agri innovations'

The Union government's implementation of the Food Security Act is a good initiative to eradicate hunger. But, the government is not clear on whether it will protect farmers’ interest, said Dr Raj S Paroda, chairperson, Farmers' Commission, Haryana. 

Delivering a lecture on “Addressing emerging concerns of Indian agriculture” here on Wednesday, Dr Paroda said that even in terms of the buffer stocks in the country, the Centre is not clear on the exact requirement of foodgrains for the underprivileged, who are the beneficiaries of the Food Security Act.

India has not done much in the field of agriculture innovation when compared to China. “India has done just over 250 innovations, compared to China’s 21,000 innovations. Even in terms of field allotted for protected cultivation, China has over two million hectares protected, while it is just 40,000 protected hectares in India,” he added.

Green Revolution in India is still a distant dream due to lack of appropriate policy on agriculture, institutional support and human resources,” he opined

Flood-tolerant rice: The future of agriculture

With sea levels rising and weather conditions worsening, plant scientists continue to search for ways to save agricultural plants from environmental threats to sustain the world's food supply.
Countries are in need of rice varieties that can "tolerate higher temperature and drought, survive prolonged flooding, and soil salinity," said Dr. Robert S. Zeigler, Director General, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) during the 11th International Society for Plant Anaerobiosis (ISPA) International Conference, Monday.
Rice shortage is one of the threats the scientists of IRRI are trying to prevent from coming to pass.
Being the primary staple food of 70% of the world's poor, the demand for rice increases with each generation. Even with the world's temperature increase, changes in rainfall, and weather disasters, we would still need to make 100 million more tons of rice every 12 years, Zeigler said.
Rice is also grown in monsoonal areas are prone to flooding.
"But everything we need, nature has already figured out," said Professor Rens Voesenek, President of the ISPA. "It's only a matter of looking for the genes responsible for desirable traits that need to be interbred within the species of plants."
"We have to explore nature to find those genes which are relevant to help us make more tolerant crops. Nature discovered this all very many, many times," he added.
"There are many plants close to rivers, and many plants in marshes, and in swamps throughout the world. So there are genes, there are processes out there in nature to protect plants against flooding. The trick now is to pick them out, find them, and bring them into rice or other vulnerable crops."
The SUB1 gene
One example is the SUB1 gene, which became famous thanks to a study published in the scientific journal Nature in 2006.
SUB1 is the gene responsible for submergence tolerance. It was discovered in a low-yielding breed of rice in India. It was tediously cross-bred with high yielding varieties for years.
"It took a long time to introduce it to other varieties," said Dr. Abdelbagi Ismail, Principal Scientist and Plant Physiologist of IRRI.
"Actually until 1996, there was very little success. Few varieties have developed that are high yield that (also) have this gene."
In 1995 IRRI was able to map this gene. Using molecular markers, scientists were able to tell which varieties have the gene, and how much of the genome from the original plant was passed on to its "offspring." This process is called marker-assisted breeding, which quickened the cross-breeding process.
"Any variety when flooded in one week, it will die," said Dr. Abdelbagi Ismail, Principal Scientist and Plant Physiologist of IRRI. "But the varieties with the SUB1, they can withstand flooding even up to 16 to 18 days sometimes in the field."
The new plant was introduced in 2008. About three million farmers have planted these submergence-tolerant rice varieties in 2012.
Dream variety
At the moment, IRRI is working breeding rice varieties that are drought-tolerant and salinity tolerant as well.
"Our dream varieties are (those) that can tolerate drought, submergence, salinity, and actually we are developing these varieties now. We are hoping that in two or three years, we'll start releasing them," said Ismail.
But the level of tolerance developed this year will probably not be sufficient five to 10 years from now, he said.
"Fortunately, plant science now is advancing very quickly. We are learning a lot about adaptation—how plants adapt to these conditions. We go and study plants living in very tough conditions and learn from them and try to bring that information to improve crops."
Ismail said that with the advancements in genetics and genomics, and the sequences of rice genomes available, there is a lot of promise in the advancement of plant science.

India caterpillar attack flags risk of climate-linked farm pests

An infestation of jute hairy caterpillar in parts of India’s Assam state has ruined the crops of several thousand farmers, leaving many facing a bleak future.
According to local farmers, the caterpillars were first noticed on Aug. 13 in jute plantations in the northeastern districts of Nagaon and Barpeta. They quickly multiplied, and the pests went on to destroy large tracts of jute, a natural fibre used in cloth, as well as vegetables.
“It was the first time in our life that we saw so many caterpillars - they numbered in the several thousands and maybe in lakh (hundreds of thousands) as well,” said Nur Islam Fakir, a 45-year-old farmer from Juria in Nagaon district. “I myself have suffered losses of over 100,000 rupees ($1,615).”
Fakir had planted jute on 90 percent of his one hectare plot, and was growing vegetables on the rest, but now almost nothing remains, and he faces economic ruin.
“We were literally attacked,” said Aminul Ahmed, a 48-year-old farmer also from Juria. “Overnight thousands of these caterpillars swarmed into our village, and besides our crops, also destroyed our small home gardens and came into our houses, schools, mosques and temples.”
Ahmed said several families had fled in fear to nearby towns, and have yet to return.
Experts link the infestation with drier-than-usual conditions, and are concerned that erratic weather and longer-term climate change could usher in new pest problems for subsistence farmers, threatening their incomes and food supplies.
The local agriculture department said it had never encountered such an invasion before, adding that farmers have suffered massive losses amounting to more than several hundred thousand rupees.
“In the area in Nagaon district where the caterpillar infestation took place, almost 1,200 hectares of land is under jute cultivation, and of this, almost 100 hectares has been affected,” said DB Buragohain, a senior agriculture officer posted in Nagaon.
He blamed the appearance of the caterpillars largely on this year’s sparse rainfall in the state.
“Immediately after it rained, the infestation by these caterpillars almost disappeared, and the situation came under control,” said Buragohain.
“There has been scanty rainfall this year, and until August 12-13 when the infestation by these caterpillars began, the rainfall was very minimal, but interestingly it rained after August 17 and then these pests started disappearing,” he added.
Buragohain offered more evidence that a lack of water was the cause of the caterpillar epidemic.
“When some of the farmers who have land near the Brahmaputra River tried to wash some of the jute containing the caterpillars, most of them disappeared. This points to one thing: that scanty rainfall is the reason behind this pest infestation,” said Buragohain.
The situation in Barpeta district, which has suffered a similar caterpillar infestation, is no better. According to local officials, jute and vegetable crops were munched on more than 1,000 hectares of land, affecting several thousand farmers.
Senior agriculture officials and scientists have been asked to monitor the situation closely and to stay in touch with farmers as the situation improves, according to Siddharth Singh, deputy commissioner of Barpeta district.
Assam’s agriculture minister, Nilomoni Sen Deka, said his department had directed the Krishi Vikash Kendra (KVK), a government farm research organisation, to send a team to the affected areas.
Scientists fear shifting rainfall patterns could bring further climate-linked pest infestations.
“We have never come across such rainless periods during this time of the year, and if this trend continues in the future, then such attacks might occur again,” said Biswajit Guha, a senior agricultural scientist posted in Nagaon, who is part of the KVK team working on the problem.
Guha said low rainfall and warm temperatures in August had enabled the caterpillars to multiply rapidly.
 “It is important to take immediate steps to destroy the eggs laid by these caterpillars, and also to provide farmers with the required pesticides and so on. Otherwise there could be similar attacks again by caterpillars when farmers cultivate their next crops,” Guha warned.
Assam’s agriculture minister said his department was awaiting further feedback from district agriculture officials and researchers before taking preventive action.
“Once we get the final report from the agriculture scientists we will be able to arrive at a conclusion, and the department will also be able to work out remedies to tackle such a situation in the future,” Deka said.

‘Youth should take up agriculture as profession’

Union Minister of State for Agriculture and Food Processing Industries Tariq Anwar Friday appealed to the youth to take up agriculture as a profession.
"Our country needs students to run the agriculture sector. Agriculture has a lot of potential as a profession. By taking it up as a career, you will not only be fulfilling a personal dream of reaching the top, but also rendering your services to the process of nation-building," he said.
He was speaking as chief guest at the convocation ceremony of the Vaikunthlal Mehta National Institute of Cooperative Management (VAMNICOM) here. Degrees and diplomas were awarded to successful students from eight different batches on the occasion.
Citing examples of some noted business innovators who had to start from scratch, Anwar appealed to students to make a beginning in a certain direction with new ideas and imagination.
"Developing nations like India rely heavily upon agriculture to ensure household food and nutritional security to its citizens. This is achieved by the relentless work of researchers and farmers across the country," he said. Anwar pledged financial help for VAMNICOM.
National Council for Cooperative Training Chairman Chandrapal Singh Yadav, veteran cooperative leader Shivajirao Deshmukh, Mahatma Phule Agriculture University Vice-Chancellor Tukaram More and VAMNICOM Director Sanjeeb Patjoshi also addressed students on the occasion.

India to Set Up Agency for Monitoring Water Efficiency

India, where water availability per person has shrunk by 70 percent in six decades, will set up a monitoring agency for government, industry and private users to help meet its target of cutting leaks and waste by a fifth.
Improved water use will help India save 500 billion rupees ($8 billion), M. Satyanarayana, adviser to India’s water ministry, said today in New Delhi. The government will establish the National Bureau of Water Use Efficiency by the financial year that ends in March, he said.
The agency will help India, where 80 percent of its water supplies go for agriculture and food crops, to label irrigation equipment and help factories to set standards for water use, Satyanarayana said. At least 60 percent of the water supplied to Indian farms is wasted, he said.
To counteract that, India’s water ministry plans to set up an agency similar to the Bureau of Energy Efficiency to ensure efficient water usage by agriculture and industry, he said.
Industrial water demand in the second-most populous country may surge 57 percent by 2025, with India being the most water-stressed of the Group of 20 nations that includes China, according to HSBC Holdings Plc estimates.

Israel to showcase its agro excellence in 10 Indian states by 2015

Israel will have its footprints in 10 Indian states by 2015 as it plans to set up various centres of excellence for floriculture, fruits and vegetables. Emboldened by the success of two such centres — one for vegetables in Karnal and another for fruit orchards in Sirsa - in Haryana, both the countries have decided to have 26 similar set-ups in different states under Indo-Israel agriculture cooperation agreement of 2008.

Objective of such centres is to demonstrate Israeli agriculture technologies and know-how to local farmers on use of protected cultivation which allows growing of crops beyond seasonal barrier through efficient use of water and controlling of temperature using poly-houses\canopies.

Calling it the best example of cooperation between the two countries, Israeli minister of economyNaftali Bennett, who visited the Centre of Excellence for Vegetables in Karnal to see its functioning on Tuesday, told TOI that the idea of this step was to increase productivity through efficient use of water and other resources and made the entire agricultural activity less expensive for the farmers not only in Haryana but also in other parts of India.

The concept of cooperation behind these centres is to create a platform for joint Indian and Israeli agriculture research and development (R&D) on the ground that will benefit both the countries in the long run. Each centre will be focused on specific fruit and vegetable crops.

Israel - world leader in agriculture technology - will provide seeds and technologies to help grow new variety of vegetables\fruits like cucumber, capsicum, mango, dates and herbs.

Maharashtra will have the maximum number (four out of 28) of such centres that are to be set up in Nagpur, Rahuri (Ahmednagar district), Dapoli (Ratnagiri) and Roha (Raigad). The centre at Nagpur will be exclusively for citrus fruits, while Rahuri and Dapoli for pomegranate and mango, respectively. A post-graduate harvest college is being established at Roha.

Other states that will have such centres include Tamil Nadu (Hosur and Krishnagiri), Rajasthan (Bassi near Jaipur), Punjab, Gujarat, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Bihar.

Hosur in Tamil Nadu will see intensive vegetable production whereas Krishnagiri will have a canopy management training centre of traditional old mango plantations. Three centres will come up in Rajasthan that will be meant for floriculture, vegetables, fruits and dates.

Israeli ambassador to India Alon Ushpiz, who accompanied Bennett to Karnal, said his country was in the process of setting up such centres in different states in India. Six to eight centres, which are at various stages of development in Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Punjab and Karnataka, would be inaugurated by the end of this year, he added.

Tamil Nadu agricultural project uses radiation to increase yield

To ensure higher yield in crops, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University in collaboration with Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai, is working on eight agricultural projects.
Plants and crops like rice, soyabeans, black grams and green grams are exposed to radiation treatment and a variety of mutations are in the testing and trial processes. The ongoing projects are funded by the Board of Research in Nuclear Sciences, K B Sainis, Director, Bio-Medical Group, BARC, said on Wednesday at a scientists-media interaction organised by the Press Information Bureau ( PIB) on "Radiation and Quality of Human Life".
Experts from BARC made presentations on nuclear agriculture, radiation processing of food and agricultural commodities, and the medical application of radiation and its health effects. Radiation and radioisotope technologies playing a major role in maintenance of health and quality of human life was also in focus.
The TNAU-BARC project is about subjecting plants and crops to radiation via gamma rays to give it a genetic variability that can target specific requirements such as increased yield and disease resistance.
For instance white ponni rice that is widely consumed has short comings that it is a tall plant variety. The project requirement is to make it a shorter variety, to prevent it from falling and the variety will also be made to mature early. "Basmati rice and red rice, which are tall, low yielding and old varieties can be mutated to short varieties", explained Suresh Bhagwat, scientist and former head, Nuclear Agriculture and Biotechnology Division, BARC.
The soybeans project's aim is to reduce an anti- nutritional factor that is found in high levels in the form of phytic acid. Green gram is being treated by radiation to improve its disease resistance. Black gram is under treatment to see if it is suitable for situations like rice fallows and modification of starch properties is being done in tapioca.
Using radiation induced mutations in crops will have three over- arching traits in its variety crops. One is the "lodging resistance" through which crops will be dwarfed to become sturdy and prevent it from falling and they will be made to mature early. They will also be thermo-tolerant plants. "We are using mutational breeding to enhance crop productivity through these projects", according to K Ramasamy, vice chancellor, TNAU.
Nuclear agriculture will also help delay fruit ripening and prevent pre-harvest crop loss.

Israel to impart post-graduate agriculture training to Indians

Israel, a pioneer in the farm sector, is in active consultation with the Indian government to impart post-graduate training to Indian students in agriculture with special focus on enhanced productivity and research. As part of the initiative, students would visit Israel to do their internship during the duration of the programme to gain exposure to the advancements made there. The students would then return to India to complete their degree programme, Israel's ambassador to India Alon Ushpiz told PTI here, adding, talks are on with the Gujarat government for the programme. "This is something which we have never done before. It a very sophisticated venture and it is coming up in Gujarat," he said, adding, "The idea is to create a programme in which students will Study agriculture with practical orientation focused on R&D and then come to Israel and acquire some kind of Israeli experience before going back". The programme is aimed at imparting students with the requisite knowledge of producing agriculture technology and developing them indigenously here, the top Israeli envoy said. However, he did not elaborate further about the proposed programme nor disclose the quantum of investment they are planning. The development assumes significance as Israel government is already sponsoring 66 post-doctoral scholars from India to pursue research at top universities under a three-year scholarship programme. Under the framework of this scholarship programme, fellows from leading Indian institutes will conduct research in a wide range of fields, including immunology, genetics, neurobiology, bio-informatics, computer sciences, law and economics. Ushpiz, who is in favour of more such initiatives, said there is a possibility of increasing the number of students under the scholarship programme. Israel is a pioneer in the farm sector. He, however, said it is important for Indian students to be aware about such opportunities in Israeli universities. At the personal level, Ushpiz said he will be more than happy to see Israeli universities setting campuses in India pending the passage of the Foreign Education Providers Bill even though there is a great chunk of work to be covered. Israel universities, for their part, are also very "enthusiastic" about getting students from India, he said. Boosting academic ties, Israel Science Foundation has already entered into an understanding with UGC in August last year to initiate a India-Israel joint research programme.

Climate change affecting Indian agriculture.

The agricultural sector represents 35% of India’s Gross National Product (GNP) and therefore plays a crucial role in the country’s development. So while the magnitude of impact of climate change on agriculture in India varies greatly by region, it is still believed to impact agricultural productivity and shifting crop patterns gradually each year. Climate change can affect crop yields (both positively and negatively), as well as the types of crops that can be grown in certain areas, by impacting agricultural inputs such as water for irrigation, amounts of solar radiation that affect plant growth, as well as the prevalence of pests. And these changes in agriculture could then affect food security, trade policy, livelihood activities and water conservation issues, impacting large portions of the population in India. Scientists at IARI (The Indian Agriculture Research Institute) have studied the subject and have used a variety of crop growth models to evaluate potential climate change impacts on wheat and rice (India’s primary crops), and other crops such as sorghum and maize. This study based on models shows that the changes in temperature, CO2 levels, precipitation, and solar radiation are the major factors affecting the agro sector. The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climatic Change ( IPCC) of the United Nations in its report for 2001, projected using different models that the globally averaged temperatures might rise by 1.4°C to 5.8°C over the next 100 years. And for India, the area-averaged annual mean warming by 2020 is projected to be between 1.0°C and 1.4°C and between 2.2°C to 2.9°C by 2050. Though, the increase in temperatures would be less in the rabi season (winter season). Further, the kharif (monsoon season) rainfall is expected to increase in most places whereas rabi rainfall may decrease in some areas. Though no immediate adverse impact of global warming is visible in India, experts feel the country should draw sharp strategy to deal with the long-term effects of climate change on agriculture. “Rise of 0.2 degrees in the temperatures now is not a cause of worry for agriculture in the country, but there could be a problem after 5-6 decades for which we need to be alert” says, S. Ayyappan, Director General of ICAR. However, programs like Macro Management of Agriculture, Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojna, National Food Security Mission, National Horticulture Mission and National Mission on Micro Irrigation are already in place to make Indian agriculture climate resilient, by embedding various adaptation measures.

Maharashtra government gets 1,100 crore to boost agriculture

The state government has received Rs 1,100 crore funds from the Union government under the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) for carrying out various programmes in the agricultural sector with an aim to improve infrastructure, water supply schemes and soil conservation.

The state agriculture department recently received intimation from the state government in this regard. The department had received Rs 1,058.58 crore in the last financial year of which Rs 261.57 crore is still with the government. According to agriculture department officials, the state is planning to get a sanction for the utilization of these funds as there were no rains last year to carry out agricultural activities. The unutilized funds can be used in the current season as many parts of the state have received good showers, the officials said.

The soil in the state is more fertile and requires separate treatment for improving its texture. "The state has set up some soil testing labs, which will benefit from RKVY funds to bear their running cost. Moreover, chemicals and equipment need to be purchased and replaced from time to time. The funds will also be used for carrying out seed development activities, wherein farmers are paid for producing certain quality of seeds at their respective fields. The funds sanctioned for the current year along with unutilized money from the previous year would strengthen infrastructure facilities," the officials said.

"Micro irrigation is another sector that the state and central governments is promoting. Use of sprinklers and drip irrigation would save a lot of water which can be utilized in a more efficient way. The agriculture sector is facing serious challenge of water availability as demand from urban areas is increasing. In such a situation, micro irrigation may prove to be a solution, wherein farmers would not have to compromise on their share of water from dams and reservoirs," the officials said.

"The agriculture department has also conducted various workshops and awareness programmes for farmers across the state. The funds will be utilized for encouraging the farmers to use water judiciously," they said.

"The state and Union governments have already started providing subsidy to farmers for shifting from flow water method to micro irrigation," they added.

Robust agricultural growth is key to India's economic growth prospects.

Last week, the prime minister's Economic Advisory Council projected 4.8 per cent growth for agriculture in 2013/14. In comparison, agricultural growth last year was 1.9 per cent.

If the projection proves accurate, it will come as a shot in the arm for the ailing Indian economy. Robust agricultural growth is expected to contain inflation, support industry and services, and increase employment opportunities in rural India. It might also ease pressure on government employment schemes. A government statement said that the early monsoon season has had a positive impact on sowing. The reservoir position at the end of August was 29 per cent better than the overall average of the last 10 years. Both kharif and rabi seasons are expected produce good output. Agriculture's contribution to the overall gross domestic product (GDP) has fallen from about 30 per cent in 1990/91 to less than 15 per cent in 2011/12. Nonetheless, given that roughly half of India's workforce is engaged in agriculture, it remains the backbone of the Indian economy. Agriculture's performance assumes greater significance in view of the recently passed Food Security Act and the ongoing National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. Agriculture supports the vast majority of low income, poor and vulnerable people in the country. 

An average Indian spends almost half of his total expenditure on food. N R. Bhanumurthy, Professor at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy,  says this year's agricultural production will in turn drive industrial growth and consequently have a positive impact on services. "With all these, I will be not surprised if GDP growth is between five and 5.5 per cent," he adds. According to Bhanumurthy, low agriculture growth pulls down overall growth because of its indirect connection to industry and services. "The rise in agricultural activity will ensure a lower pressure on public spending and employment schemes. For the common man in urban areas, this should logically lead to lower inflation. In rural areas, there will be increased demand for employment in both farm and non-farm activities ," he says.

But Madan Sabnavis, Chief Economist at Care Ratings, says the projection is overstated. "I see agriculture growth in the range of three to four per cent," he says.High growth in agriculture will increase rural incomes, according to him. But how rural India will spend this income is unclear. "Since gold prices are higher than last year, gold will not attract sizeable rural spending. So, higher rural income will be mainly channelised into bank savings and consumer durables, automobile and housing," he adds... This will have positive implications for steel, cement and manufacturing industries. Migration from rural India may be checked. Sabnavis also said that agricultural commodity prices may not drop on account of higher output, but price increases will be moderate at best. He noted that agricultural output takes into account only the staple crops, while it is commodities like vegetables, eggs and milk that have been driving food inflation in recent times.

The economics of hybrid rice in India

Hybrid rice has the potential to increase yields by 15-30% and help India meet its food security demand.
With the Lok Sabha recently passing the National Food Security Bill (NFSB) that promises subsidised foodgrains to 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population, India is under huge pressure to significantly increase its cereal grains production. One such method of doing so is through the accelerated adoption of hybrid technologies, including hybrid rice.
Hybrid rice has the potential to significantly increase rice yields, often to the order of 15-30% relative to local or even modern high yielding varieties. These higher yields allow for more intensive rice production, thus allowing farmers to either produce more output on a particular plot of land or to diversify into higher-value crops like vegetables and other horticulture crops. Both strategies potentially result in higher farm incomes and more abundant food supplies that can stabilise prices for both urban and rural food-insecure households.
The government of India has set an ambitious target to increase the area under hybrids to 25% of total rice area by 2015. Despite these promising results, the pace of hybrid rice adoption in India has been slow, particularly in comparison with experiences in China. At present, over half of all rice area in China is under hybrid rice, resulting in improved food security for an estimated 60 million people per year. The adoption of hybrids has been much slower in India, with only about 7% of rice area under hybrids. The low rate of adoption is largely due to poor grain quality and the resulting low market price, difficulties in achieving high rates of heterosis in tropical hybrids, high hybrid seed cost, limited availability of quality seeds, and hybrids not suited to ultimate consumers’ tastes and preferences. These are just a few of the main challenges facing the expansion of hybrid rice in India.
Most of the India’s hybrid rice is currently grown in the eastern and northern parts of the country, where yields have historically been low and where the yield gains attributable to hybrids are most apparent; currently 80% of India’s hybrid rice is limited to areas such as Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. There have been significant efforts by state governments to encourage hybrid rice adoption, but uptake has been slow. For instance, Uttar Pradesh provides a 25% subsidy on hybrid seeds. In Uttarakhand, farmers get either R200 per quintal or 50% of the cost, whichever is less. And this year’s budget allocated R1,000 crore to help farmers in eastern India to boost the adoption of hybrid rice varieties.
While early efforts to develop and deliver hybrid technologies were due to the public sector and international research organisations, most of the new hybrids that have been released in recent years have been the result of private sector research. Because hybrids offer a form of biological intellectual property rights protection, they appear an ideal technology for further private sector investment. It is estimated that about $9 million was invested in research and development to improve yield performance, reduce yield variability and improve grain quality in 2009, with plans to invest further in marketing and distribution network. Similar investment to improve taste and cooking quality could also be initiated, addressing one of the major challenges constraining rapid adoption of hybrids throughout India. In addition, because of the intellectual property rights protection conferred by hybrids, they offer a platform through which improved traits can be almost immediately remunerative for private firms willing to make the upfront investments in the development of these improved traits (e.g., drought tolerance).
Ultimately, for the technology to be a viable solution for transforming rice cultivation throughout the country, increased public sector and private sector investments in the discovery, development and delivery stages of the innovation process will be needed to produce better adapted and commercially accessible hybrid rice that could translate into a wide range of positive impacts for both farmers as well as end consumers.
There is a limited scope to increase land under rice cultivation in India—it is difficult because 60% of farms depend on monsoon for rains and land and resources are increasingly under pressure from urbanisation. So, hybrid rice may contribute to addressing India’s serious food security concerns, including contributions to meeting the demands arising from the upcoming national food security programme that guarantees subsidised grains to millions of India’s poor.
---- Patrick Ward, Post-doctoral fellow at International Food Policy Research Institute-----------

Rain-fed growth for India

A good monsoon will drive demand in rural India, which accounts for 56% of the country’s total income.
This year, India saw the best monsoon in one and a half decades. Rural India—home to 70% of the population, accounting for 56% of the country’s total income and 33% of its savings—is set to benefit from the abundant rainfall this year. As per the India Meteorological Department, India’s monsoon rainfall in 2013 has been 5% above normal, with 30 out of 36 sub-divisions reporting normal or excess rainfall. Despite the low direct share of agriculture in India’s GDP, rural prosperity has been a key driver of the overall economy. Years of above average monsoon rainfall have been characterised by rising rural prosperity, and with India Inc progressively increasing its distribution footprint into rural India, we expect the multiplier impact of rural prosperity to be higher in the current year relative to previous years of strong monsoons. Our analysis of 24 years of monsoon data leads us to conclude that years of above average monsoon rainfall are marked by strong growth in agriculture GDP and correspondingly rising aggregate demand in the rural economy evidenced by high growth in demand for tractors/2W/4W etc.
With urban India seeing muted growth on rising interest rates and high inflation, the companies like M&M, Maruti, Bharti, HDFC Bank and ITC—which have invested in building a presence in rural India—should benefit from good monsoon.
There is clearly a strong empirical correlation between strong rainfall and agriculture GDP/foodgrain production growth. In our analysis of data of more than 2 decades, agriculture/foodgrain growth has averaged 5.3%-6.7% in years of above average rainfall while averaging only 1.9%/-0.6% in years of below average monsoon rainfall. Monsoon rainfall also tends to follow cyclical patterns, implying that a year of good monsoon preceded by a year of bad monsoon tends to generate higher agriculture GDP /foodgrain production growth This pattern sets a strong platform for agriculture GDP growth this year as 2012-13 monsoon rainfall was weak (at minus 9.5% below average) and erratic, leading to agriculture GDP growth of only 1.9%.
The Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory council expects FY14 agriculture GDP to rise by 4.8%. Rising penetration of mobile telephony, internet and satellite television coupled with increasing road connectivity (70% of India’s villages are now connected by all weather roads) and rising aspirations have resulted in an accelerated integration of the rural economy into the mainstream economy.
We are confident of a strong recovery in rural demand in FY14. Our confidence in estimating strong rural demand from high agricultural production stems from:
* Area sown under autumn Kharif crop is currently 5% higher on a yoy basis.
* 30 out of 36 meteorological sub divisions have seen either normal/above normal rainfall making the season among the best in terms of spatial distribution in 15 years.
* Water levels in India’s reservoirs currently stands at 15% above last year’s levels.
* Agriculturally critical months of June and July this year received extremely good rainfall which has facilitated extensive crop planting.
* Horticulture crop which yields significantly higher margins than foodgrains should also benefit immensely leading to higher farm incomes.
* High water tables are likely to encourage multiple cropping which should lead to higher cash flows for farmers.

Banks to disburse 7.5 lakh crore as agriculture loan

Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram on Sunday said that banks would disburse 7.5 lakh crore rupees as agriculture loan in this fiscal year. He also added that the interest for agriculture loan is only 7% and interest subvention of 4% is given to those who repay the loans.
Chidambaram said that Government is committed to give increased support price for food grains like paddy, wheat to farmers. "Agriculture is the poorvikam (original vocation) of the country and if the farm sector did not prosper...then the country will not prosper. In the last ten years the minimum support price for paddy has been raised ten times,” he said at the inauguration of the 1459th branch of Vijaya Bank in Thayamangalam here
Chidambaram urged farmers to avail bank loans, with the cheap rate of interest. He also emphasised on the need to increase food production and said that the agricultural sector had seen 'excessive' growth recently.

Improving access to services for women in agriculture

Groups that offer agricultural services must find ways to engage the millions of women working the fields who aren't being reached by current programmes
Agriculture extension programmes should focus on supporting and training the many millions of women who work on farms in India. Photograph: Str/EPA
Women account for 43% of the agricultural labour force (pdf) in developing countries on average but only receive about 5% of training and advisory services, known as agricultural extension. This makes them less productive than men, and closing that gap could reduce the number of undernourished people in the world by 12-17%. How might it be done?
A starting point is to look at how agricultural extension services are delivered. Traditionally, these have been provided by the public sector, with ministries of agriculture responsible for sending experts to visit farmers. But although women play a significant role in farming, they are still often perceived as not being "real" farmers.
"Many people assume that farmers are men," says Kristin Davis, aresearch fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute. "In fact women are often either household heads themselves or by default because their husbands are working in cities or mines. But traditionally the focus has been on men and technology."
Persistent inequalities in land rights reinforce this exclusion, because women still hold less land than men in developing countries and have less security of tenure, so that when husbands die their land may go back to their family. This means that where extension services are delivered based on land ownership, women farmers are more likely to be passed over.
"There's also the fact that some people are landless and still farming," Davis adds. "In India, women go out and use land not owned by anybody. So we have to redefine what is a farmer."
Agricultural extension has seen a paradigm shift over the decades, moving from top-down 'training and visit' approaches to more participatory and demand-driven approaches such as farmer field schools and mobile data services. This has the potential to broaden access, but can also reinforce women's exclusion. ICT services delivering agricultural information, for example, still depend on women having access to technology and being able to pay for some private data services.
"Women often don't have access to the technology as well as men do," says Davis. "If there's a radio in the home it's often controlled by the man, and they listen to the programme the man wants."
In many countries, levels of numeracy and literacy are also lower for women, which means that even if they have access to information through mobile phones, they may not be able to translate that into improved farming practice.
One way to tackle this is to rely less on words and data, and more on visual transmission. In India, Digital Green's video-based form of agricultural extension is both visual and participatory, with farmers making videos to share with other farming communities.
"The literacy rate of men in rural India is around 77% and of women ... 58%, so video is powerful given the lower rate of literacy among women as well as the inherent visual nature of farming," says Rikin Gandhi, CEO of Digital Green.
Digital Green has used existing networks of women's self-help groups involved in micro-savings and credit to reach women farmers, and has found the video screenings to be a very popular form of outreach.
"Currently, 76% of the 115,000 farmers attending our video screenings are women," says Gandhi. "When women become the first recipients of new knowledge in their household, we have found that their husbands often ask them about what videos they watched. Over time, we have seen that some women are able to have more of a decision-making role in their households."
Possibly the best known participatory approach to extension is the farmer field school which first emerged in the late 1980s in Asia. Farmer field schools move away from the top-down style of training to make learning more farmer-led and inclusive, which can be a way of reaching more women farmers.
"Our research showed that farmer field schools are very effective at reaching women as well as men," says Davis. "It's taking place right there in the community, working on a field, and it's a group so it's more culturally appropriate in many places."
Even so, there are still some practical barriers to women's attendance, which are easily overlooked.
"Women, because of their multiple responsibilities in the household, may have a much more restricted ability to travel, particularly to evening meetings," says Kathleen Colverson, programme leader in livelihoods,gender and impact at the International Livestock Research Institute.
"That's a real concern, and it's something I've discussed with male extension agents. If you wish to encourage female attendance at meetings, provide transport and childcare so that women will be able to come."
The majority of extension workers are still male, and redressing this balance may also help make the services more accessible to women. According to Colverson, cultural norms in communities are more of a barrier than any reticence on the part of male extension workers or women farmers themselves.
"About 90% of extension workers are male and my experience has been that they recognise the need to reach out to women farmers, but they are clueless on how to do it or they are obstructed for other reasons," she says.
"At one training I did recently, one man stood up and said I really understand the need but show me how I can work with traditional male elders who are not receptive and not interested."
Addressing access to agricultural extension therefore depends on much more than just the provision of the service itself. Factors as diverse as cultural norms and access to childcare or even clean water can all directly influence women farmers' ability to access information and training.
"We have consistently advocated for free essential services, particularly water and sanitation services," says Ines Smyth, senior gender adviser at Oxfam. "They are crucial for women because they reduce the burden on their time as well as improving health and wellbeing. When they could be at training, they are not available because they're busy in their role as carers."
But, as Smyth points out, this also means there are various ways for development organisations to support women's access to agricultural information and training, without having to actually provide those services themselves.
"That's our responsiblity as practitioners, to work out how can we make the most difference," she says. "Where are the openings and opportunities, and who else is doing what? We need to think creatively about points of entry."

Agriculture growth likely to be 5% in 2013-14

Economists are expecting agriculture to grow five per cent in FY14 from the two per cent seen in the previous financial year. According to CLSA, the area sown is up seven per cent year-on-year and foodgrain production could reach a record 259 million tonnes in FY14. The brokerage also expects agriculture GDP to rise from last year's two per cent to five per cent this year. Rural India accounts for 56 per cent of the country's total income and 33 per cent of India's savings. Both incomes and savings are likely to rise substantially as this year has seen one of its best monsoons in over a decade and a half. Analysts believe, with Indian companies increasing their reach in rural areas, rural prosperity will improve the fortunes of corporate India, too. Deutsche Bank Global Markets Research has analysed 24 years of monsoon data and concluded that years of above-average monsoon rainfall are marked by strong growth in agriculture GDP and correspondingly rising aggregate demand in the rural economy, evidenced by high growth in demand for tractors/two-wheelers and four wheelers.
Not surprising, then, that Maruti is increasing its reach in rural India from 45,000 villages last year to 100,000 this year. The passenger car maker derives 35 per cent of its revenues from rural India. Similarly, 70 per cent of HDFC Bank's new branches have been opened in semi-urban and rural areas. Shree Cements derives nearly half of its cement sales from rural India. Mahindra & Mahindra have already seen a sharp pick-up in tractor sales over the past few months and currently the company derives 65 per cent of sales from rural India. Analysts say companies that have been focused on growing their rural markets should do well and the festive season would be a good indicator of how strong aggregate demand will be this year, thanks to a pick-up in rural incomes. ITC, Dabur and Mahindra are CLSA's preferred picks to play the (rural) theme.