Record rabi harvest could validate PM's optimism

In what could be an early sign that prime minister Manmohan Singh's optimism on the price front may not be entirely misplaced, the agriculture ministry has projected an all-time-high rabi foodgrain crop of 117 million tonnes in 209-10. This is expected to start arriving in the markets from mid-March onwards.
Experts say the 117 million tonne rabi (winter-sown) crop - based on the ministry's 'second advance estimates' - released in New Delhi on Friday, would more than make up the poor kharif harvest of 99.85 million tonnes resulting from the worst shortfall in south-west monsoon since 1972.

They say, the turnaround in rabi would mean that the country's total foodgrain production during 2009-10 would be 216.85 million tonnes, which is better than the 198.36 million tonnes of 2004-05 and 174.77 million tonnes of 2002-03, which were also bad monsoon years.

In fact, they say, the only other time the rabi output exceeded the kharif crop was in 2002-03 when the rabi yield was 87.55 million tonnes against the kharif crop of 87.22 million tonnes.

But, even the rebound of 2002-03 would hardly measure up to what the government is projecting this time around, though it is subject to the weather not playing spoilsport in March. Experts say any sudden rise in temperatures could impact the standing wheat crop and send the projections for a toss.

Wheat production this year is expected to touch 80.28 million tonnes, which would be below last time's record 80.68 million tonnes, resulting in the centre ending up with a huge problem of 'plenty' on its hands as against 'little' for most other crops.

But, here again, the signs point to an easing of prices with production of rabi pulses expected to touch 10.53 million tonnes - the first time it will cross the 10 million tonne mark - due mainly to the gram (chana) output touching an unprecentented 7.46 million tonnes.

Similarly, a record harvest of rabi coarse grains (11.50 million tonnes) is being anticipated, including maize (5.64 million tonnes) and jowar (4.26 million tonnes) that would help bolster feed supplies. Experts say the increased feed grain availability would avert the looming crisis in milk.
The ministry has also projected a bumper rapeseed-mustard crop of 74.29 million tonnes as against 72.01 million tonnes and 58.34 million tonnes in the two preceding years. The prime minister's assertion, therefore, of the country having left the worst in food inflation behind, could well turn out to be true.

Food inflation is currently raging at 18 per cent and the government's efforts to tame prices have provided no relief. A decision to release more foodgrain to low-income population has already been taken and states have told to more strictly enforce the provisions of the Essential Commodities Act.