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By Ruma Dubey

The kharif sowing season is on…it began in April and will continue onto July, with harvesting in October. Rice is the most important kharif crop and this year, the Govt has set new records when it comes to target.

After the IMD forecast normal monsoon, the Agriculture Ministry is targeting record foodgrain output of 283.7 million tonnes in the crop year beginning July, with 140.20 million tonnes targeted for the kharif crop.

And according to the second advance estimate released by the Agriculture ministry, foodgrain production would touch a record 277.49 million tonnes in the 2017-18 crop year (July-June). 

The kharif acerage is expected at 107 million hectares, same as last year.

In 2018-19 crop year, rice production is estimated at 113 million tonnes; target for wheat output is at 100 million tonnes while coarse cereals production target us at 46.7 million tonnes and the target for pulses production is 24 million tonnes.

One cannot help but wonder, how the Govt gets such data?

To a large extent, agriculture too is a speculators market and they play up the price based on the numbers released by the govt.

And therein lay the problem. Like IIP, the numbers which come from the Govt are a suspect. Have you wondered how these “area sown” numbers are gathered by the Govt? No there is no farmer reporting to any agency – there is no actual field survey or not even satellite images; the estimates that we get is purely on the basis of what the “eye see’s.” Yes, it is purely gut feeling on what the eye estimates. That’s how we get these sowing numbers on which speculators play up the prices, affecting inflation, which in turn affect every decision of RBI.

How are production advance estimates made? Pretty much the same. It is guided by visual observation and then they sometimes validate with proceedings of the meetings of Crop Weather Watch Group. They also look at the water reservoir position, credit supply, rainfall, weather; all this is visual and instinct based.

Another very significant lapse is that these advance estimates simply do not include any data on horticulture, which today exceeds the production of even foodgrains and contributes 30% to value of India’s total crop sector. Why the Govt does not include horticulture data? Because there is simply no mechanism in place to collect this data.

It is indeed shocking to know that this is the kind of data on which we base all our important economic decisions – right from the Budget to RBI. Yet, the govt is doing zilch to improve data collection. This is the same blame heaped on IIP numbers but somehow, despite the govt knowing the significance of information and data in today’s world, turns a blind eye to forming a reliable data collection center. Yes, we have the Department of Economics and Statistics but it seems to be facing a budget constraints and no real motivation to work better.

Agriculture is the life blood of India. Over 50% of India’s population is dependent on farming and even we talk about growth, 15% of the GDP comes from agriculture and allied sectors. And if growth is the only motivator for the Govt, surely there is urgent need to collect more reliable agriculture data.

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