Government push to coarse cereals as climate change affects wheat, paddy cultivation

Procurement target for coarse cereals doubled from Kharif crop market; more coarse grains likely in rations 

By Raju Sajwan
Published: Thursday 01 September 2022

Climate change has affected the production of wheat and paddy in the country, indicating a need to shift focus to coarse cereals. Cultivation of the two crops will not be enough to meet the country’s food needs due to erratic weather patterns, a senior central government official recently observed. 

The remark was not made by a climate scientist but by the secretary for the department of food and public distribution (DFPD) under the Centre, Sudhanshu Pandey. The observation indicated the central government has realised that depending on just wheat and rice to provide rations to the poor under the National Food Security Mission is not enough. There is a need to look for alternative food grains. 

The production of wheat has been low this Rabi season, indicating a crisis. However, a DFPD statement August 21, 2022, claimed the country has sufficient wheat stock to meet the domestic requirement.

Read more: Sowing wheat early in eastern India can increase yield by 69%, finds study

Sustainable agriculture practices also require a shift in usual farming methods from just wheat and rice, said food policy analyst Devinder Sharma. “It has become imperative that the country adopts sustainable farming systems. Coarse cereals must be promoted for it,” he said. 

A meeting was organised by DFPD August 30, 2022, to discuss the procurement of the Kharif produce for 2022-2023. Food secretaries of all states and Food Corporation of India officials also attended the meeting. 

The officials decided that 51.8 million tonnes of rice would be procured from the Kharif market. Last year, 50.98 million tonnes were acquired. 

However, wheat procurement after the Rabi season this year was much lower than the target. Therefore, rice quantity in the Kharif market might be affected as well. Some states in the meet suggested procuring coarse grains to meet the requirement. 

The officials decided to acquire 1.37 million tonnes of coarse cereals, also known as superfoods, from the Kharif market. The total procurement of coarse grains till now has been 0.63 million tonnes — meaning its target has been more than doubled. 

Karnataka purchased the maximum amount of coarse grains through July 31, 2022, according to Food Corporation of India data. The state procured 0.5 million tonnes of the superfood grains.  

Madhya Pradesh purchased 38 thousand tonnes of the grains, 41 thousand in Maharashtra, 32 thousand in Odisha, eight thousand in Gujarat and only three thousand tonnes of coarse grains were bought in Uttar Pradesh. However, the state-wise target for coarse grains will be decided later.

Read more: Monsoon 2022: Jharkhand farmers give up on paddy harvest due to scanty rains

Less paddy, pulse sowing this kharif season 

Erratic monsoon 2022 has increased the government’s concern for the Kharif season yield. The sowing of paddy and pulses was severely affected in most areas this year. 

This year, sowing was done in 36.75 million hectares of land through August 26, 2022. This is 2.34 million hectares less than last year, showed data from the Union ministry of agriculture. At the same time, pulses have been sown in 12.77 million hectares this year, while last year pulses were sown in 13.43 million hectares — 666,000 hectares less.

Even the sowing of oilseeds has decreased slightly this year. However, the sowing for coarse grains has increased. 

Coarse cereals have been sown in 17.63 million hectares this year as against 16.93 million hectares last year — an increase of 694,000 hectares. The acreage of millet has increased the most.

Bajra or pearl millets was planted in 6.31 million hectares last year, but this time it has been produced in 7.01 million hectares. The usual acreage for bajra is 7.34 million hectares.

Acreage for maize has also increased slightly. Last year, maize was planted in 7.9 million hectares, while this year 80.85 lakh hectare has been planted this time. 

In the future, more coarse cereals might be given out under the public distribution system instead of wheat and rice. There have been examples of coarse cereals in rations earlier as well. In July 2022, Karnataka was allocated 113,000 tonnes of coarse cereals instead of rice under the NFSA. 

Earlier, 67,019 tonnes of coarse grains were allocated in Karnataka and 14,500 tonnes in Madhya Pradesh under the Act.

Read more: Has low paddy acreage caused Centre’s U-turn on Telangana parboiled rice procurement

The question remains whether growing more coarse cereals will benefit farmers. “This is a big question. The government should make it mandatory for Farmers Producer Organizations (FPOs) to buy at MSP only,” said Sharma. 

About 50 million tonnes of coarse cereals are produced in the country at present. Maise and millets are grown the most. 

The production of Bajra this year is likely to be 9.62 million tonnes, as against 10.50 million tonnes last year, according to the Union agriculture ministry’s Fourth Advance Estimates for 2012-22. Production estimates of the current Kharif season will come later. 

An increase in maize production is projected. Maize production was 30.90 million tonnes last year, as against 33.62 million tonnes in the fourth advance estimate.

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