Drought shadow on rabi sowing

Sowing of rabi crops continues to lag in comparison with the year-ago period. The coverage was below the normal area mainly due to low residual soil moisture. There has, however, been a slight improvement on a week-on-week basis.

Most rainfed areas in north and central India did not get any moisture from the skies since August.

At least half of the 600 districts in the country are reeling from drought this year.

A worried ministry of agriculture has called a meeting of state agriculture production commissioners and principal secretaries of agriculture on Tuesday to discuss the drought situation.

Officials said unless there was an increase in sowing in the next few weeks, particularly in wheat and mustard, the harvest might remain below average.

Data from the department of agriculture till Friday showed rabi crops have been sown on 24.21 million hectares, almost 12.6 per cent less than the year-ago period. Till last week the area under rabi was almost 23 per cent less than that of the year-ago period, showing the pace of sowing had picked up. Experts said in northern and central India - mainly Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan and some parts of Maharashtra - poor residual soil moisture made farmers reluctant to sow mustard and chana.

The data showed pulses were sown on 7.4 million hectares till Friday, down from 7.74 million hectares in year-ago, mainly due to a drop in area under chana in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

Wheat, the main grain grown during rabi, was planted on 7.88 million hectares till Friday, down from 10.73 million hectares in the corresponding period last year.

In oilseeds, mustard was sown on 4.25 million hectares, almost 1.2 million hectares less than last year.

Another worrying sign was that water levels in 84 major reservoirs were marginally more than half of full capacity as on Friday.

Storage levels were almost 77 per cent in 2014 and 74 per cent of the average storage of the last 10 years.

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