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Why farm votes will count in the coming State polls | Explained News


Agriculture matters for India, accounting for nearly a fifth of its gross domestic product (GDP) and over 45% of the workforce. It matters even more for the four major states – Madhya Pradesh (MP), Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Telangana – going to the polls in the coming month.

The accompanying chart shows the share of agriculture (which includes crops, livestock, forestry and fishing) in the country’s gross value added (GVA, i.e. GDP net of product taxes and subsidies) and in its employed labour force at 18.4% and 45.8% respectively during 2022-23.

These ratios are more for MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. The farm sector contributes 44.2% to MP’s GVA, the highest for all states, while Rajasthan’s 28.9% is at No. 4, next only to Arunachal Pradesh’s 37.2% and Andhra Pradesh’s 36.2%. Agriculture’s 21.8% share of Chhattisgarh’s GVA is just above the national average. But the sector engages 62.6% of its workforce, the highest for any state, with MP’s at 59.8% and Rajasthan’s at 54.8%.

Agriculture’s share in Telangana’s GVA (17.7%) is below the national figure, but above that vis-à-vis employment (47.3%). The farm sector’s annual growth rate in all the four states, at 5.2-6.1% during 2013-14 to 2022-12, has exceeded the corresponding all-India average of 3.9% (table).

Farm votes in upcoming polls

Agriculture’s relatively larger role in the economies of the four states also means that farm votes count and issues pertaining to the sector – for instance, soyabean selling below the Centre’s minimum support price (MSP) on the back of record vegetable oil imports at low duties – are more likely to come to the fore as the campaign for the Assembly elections hots up.

Festive offer

It merits a closer look at the agriculture profile of the four states.

Rajasthan

The state has the highest net sown area or land under cultivation: 180.3 lakh hectares (lh) in 2019-20. Its agriculture is also, perhaps, the most diversified for any state.

Rajasthan’s farmers grow a range of crops, both during the post-monsoon kharif (bajra/pearl millet, jowar/sorghum, cotton, moong/green gram, guar/cluster bean, soyabean, groundnut and sesamum) and the winter-spring rabi (wheat, mustard, barley, chana/chickpea, garlic, onion, jeera/cumin, dhaniya/coriander, saunf/fennel and methi/fenugreek) seasons. This is in contrast to Punjab and Haryana that largely cultivate wheat, rice and cotton, with some potato, maize, bajra and mustard.

Rajasthan is India’s top producer of bajra, mustard, moong, guar and barley; No. 2 in groundnut (after Gujarat), garlic (after MP), jeera and saunf (after Gujarat), and methi (after MP); and No. 3 in jowar (after Maharashtra and Karnataka), chana and soyabean (after MP and Maharashtra), sesamum (after Uttar Pradesh and MP), and dhaniya (after MP and Gujarat). It is also No. 4 in cotton (after Gujarat, Maharashtra and Telangana), and No. 5 in wheat (after UP, MP, Punjab and Haryana) and onion (after Maharashtra, MP, Karnataka and Gujarat).

Rajasthan has, interestingly, also emerged as India’s leading milk producer, with its output of 33.3 million tonnes (mt) in 2021-22, as per official data, overtaking UP’s 33 mt. It is also the country’s top wool producer and has the largest population of goats and camels.

Potential poll issue: Rajasthan’s farmers have planted an all-time-high 8 lh area under cotton this time. A severe infestation of pink bollworm has taken a toll on the fibre crop, especially in the main northern cotton belt of Sri Ganganagar and Hanumangarh.

“At least a third of the crop in the two districts has suffered damage from the insect pest (whose larvae burrow into the bolls containing lint and seed) and excessive rains in September,” said Bhagirath Choudhary, director of the Jodhpur-based South Asia Biotechnology Centre.

Madhya Pradesh

MP’s net sown area of 155.1 lh is less than Rajasthan’s. But it has the highest total cropped area among states – at 282.8 lh, against Rajasthan’s 275.2 lh. Thus, an average field in MP grows 1.8 crops, whereas it is only 1.5 for Rajasthan.

The higher cropping intensity in MP (marginally below the 1.9 of Punjab and Haryana) has to do with access to irrigation. Until 2009-10, the state’s government canals barely irrigated 8 lh during the rabi season. That trebled to 23.9 lh by 2014-15 and crossed 32.6 lh in the 2022-23 rabi season.

The above expansion was partly due to new investments, and also completion of unfinished last-mile projects and improving utilisation of existing irrigation potential, through timely maintenance (de-silting, cleaning and fixing breaches) and concrete lining of canals. Canals apart, the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government increased the outstanding power connections for irrigation pumps from 13.2 lakh to over 32.5 lakh between 2010-11 and 2020-21.

Augmented irrigation coverage has enabled MP to become India’s second largest wheat producer (after UP) and supplier to government procurement agencies (after Punjab). It is also the country’s leader producer of soyabean, chana, tomato, garlic, ginger, dhaniya and methi, besides No. 2 in onion (after Maharashtra), mustard (after Rajasthan) and maize (after Karnataka).

Political risk factor: At the Dewas mandi in MP’s Malwa region, soyabean prices are now at Rs 4,500 per quintal, compared to Rs 4,800 a year ago and Rs 6,000 levels two years back. The current rates are lower than even the MSP of Rs 4,600/quintal. The low prices – blamed mainly on the flood of oil imports – could trigger farmer anger even as the new crop arrives in the market.

Chhattisgarh

The state is synonymous with rice: Chhattisgarh is No. 8 in production (behind West Bengal, UP, Punjab, Telangana, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu), but No. 3 in government procurement (after Punjab and Telangana).

Chhattisgarh’s farmers receive the highest price for their paddy sold to government agencies. For the 2022-23 crop, they were paid a per-quintal price of Rs 2,640 for common and Rs 2,660 for grade ‘A’ paddy, which included the Centre’s MSP of 2,040-2,060 and the state government’s bonus of Rs 600. In the last marketing year, 10.75 mt of paddy was purchased from 23.4 lakh farmers, translating into almost Rs 28,500 crore payments.

Chhattisgarh’s rice revolution through direct procurement from farmers began under the previous Raman Singh-headed BJP regime, which also paid a bonus of Rs 300/quintal on top of the Centre’s MSP. Bhupesh Baghel’s Congress government has promised to hike the paddy purchase price to Rs 3,600/quintal over the next term, if re-elected to power.

Telangana

The ruling K. Chandrashekar Rao-led Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) government’s trump card has been Rythu Bandhu. It is a scheme launched in May 2018, providing an “investment support” of Rs 4,000 per acre per crop season to all landowning farmers and raised to Rs 5,000/acre/season from 2019-20.

Under Rythu Bandhu – inspiring similar direct benefit transfer schemes, including the Centre’s Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi and the AP government’s Rythu Bharosa – a cumulative sum of Rs 72,815 crore has been disbursed to 65 lakh-plus farmers, over 11 seasons from kharif 2018 to kharif 2023.

Between 2014-15 and 2022-23, Telangana’s total cropped area has risen from 131 lakh to 238 lakh acres. The state’s gross irrigated area has more than doubled, from 62.5 lakh to 135 lakh acres, thanks to the Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Project and schemes for micro-irrigation and revival of village tanks under Mission Kakatiya.

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The BRS government’s schemes have led to a quadrupling of the state’s rice output from 4.4 mt in 2014-15 to 17.5 mt in 2022-23 and a near six-fold jump in paddy procurement (from 2.4 mt to 14 mt) during this period.

Telangana is today the second biggest contributor of paddy to the Central pool after Punjab. It also ranks No. 1 in cotton procurement and No. 3 in output (after Maharashtra and Gujarat). Further, the state is India’s top producer of turmeric, No. 2 in chilli (after Andhra Pradesh) and No. 3 in eggs (after AP and Tamil Nadu).

Telangana’s and Chhattisgarh’s agriculture sectors aren’t as diversified as Rajasthan’s and MP’s. But their farm-dependent populations are significantly large to swing electoral outcomes.

 





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