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Maharashtra tur mess casts doubts on yield estimates

LiveMint logoLiveMint 15-05-2017 Abhiram Ghadyalpatil

Mumbai: Maharashtra’s economic survey of 2016-17, which came out on 17 March, pegged the state’s total tur (pigeon pea) yield at 1.17 million tonnes, based on estimates of the Pune-based agriculture commissionerate. A fortnight later, the state’s agriculture department put out revised estimates showing the March projection of tur yield was way off the mark. The department said Maharashtra will have a tur yield of a record 2.35 million tonnes, slightly more than double the March estimate.

This wide variation between the two estimates made in a span of just 15 days is largely responsible for the mismanagement of tur procurement in Maharashtra, experts and farm activists say. The estimates also raise questions about the very methodology used to map sowing operations and make projections about the area under cultivation of different crops and their estimated yield.

Currently, states use Crop Cutting Experiments (CCE) to estimate yields of farm produce, as prescribed by Delhi-based Indian Agricultural Statistics Research Institute (IASRI) under the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), according to IASRI director U.C. Sud.

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“It is a standard methodology that all states implement on our instructions to make yield estimates. We factor in a standard sampling error of 5-10%,” he added.

A Maharashtra agriculture commissionerate official, however, said the CCE methodology was unscientific and outdated as it failed to map massive shifts towards or away from certain crops. The official, who requested anonymity, pointed out that a major shift happened in Marathwada and Vidarbha in favour of foodgrains, especially pulses and tur, in the 2016 kharif season.

“In Marathwada, farmers were moving away from sugarcane and in Vidarbha there was a shift away from cotton towards tur and other foodgrains. The CCE method failed to note this shift essentially because it has a smaller sample size and the state machinery that the IASRI uses is nearly non-functional. For each crop, the method selects 20 villages per year and the state machinery comprising agriculture, revenue, and rural development officials are supposed to carry out field visits in these villages. The final estimate arrived at in March is way too late for the government to design its procurement strategy,” the official added.

Nashik-based farm sector expert and commentator Milind Murugkar expressed doubts over the ability of the system to make precise yield estimates. But he pointed out that the state government had enough inputs from credible sources about a record tur yield. “In September last year, the Modi government’s chief economic advisor Arvind Subramanian asked the government to get ready for a bumper tur yield. What more did the government need to prepare its strategy,” Murugkar asked.

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A panel led by Subramanian recommended a minimum support price (MSP) of Rs6,000 per quintal for tur in the 2017 kharif season in its report “Incentivising Pulses Production Through MSP and Related Policies” to the centre.

Even as the Devendra Fadnavis government got the centre, which determines the MSP, to extend the tur procurement deadline four times, thousands of tur cultivators in Vidarbha and Marathwada are still scrambling to sell their produce at the government-operated purchase centres before the latest deadline of 31 May.

The government procurement at MSP will stop after 31 May, most likely forcing farmers to sell tur to traders much below the current MSP of Rs5,050 per quintal. Maharashtra started tur purchase at 286 procurement centres on 15 December last year. By 31 May, the state expects to procure 6-6.5 lakh tonnes of tur, according to Fadnavis.

This means the bulk of the tur yield is out of government procurement. Government officials and experts hold “wrong estimates” responsible for “sluggish procurement”.

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“The procurement began on a modest scale based on the projection of less than 1 million tonnes of tur yield. In March, the agriculture commissionerate came out with slightly revised estimates which did not affect the scale of procurement. Projections in April completely changed the situation and conveyed to us the enormity of this challenge on a full scale,” said an agriculture marketing department official who did not wish to be named.

He claimed that the government was “completely unaware” of the full scale of tur production till end March. “The procurement machinery acts on the basis of estimates and market conditions. If we had known that tur yield was going to be double what we were made to believe, we would have started more purchase centres and kept warehouses ready to store a larger quantity,” the official said.

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