Despite the government’s promotional push for millets, the actual acreage and production has gone down across all major crops. Experts say only better returns will ensure that farmers do not diversify to other crops once they get assured irrigation.
Even though the MSP of millets (ragi, bajra and jowar) have been raised by 80-125 per cent between 2013-14 and 2021-22, their combined production has dropped by 7 per cent to 15.6 million tons during the last eight years. While bajra output has been stagnant, jowar and ragi production has declined.
The average mandi prices of bajra and ragi were 14 per cent and 31 per cent down, respectively, from minimum support prices (MSPs) during the main kharif harvesting season (October-December) of 2022-23. On the other hand, farm-gate rate of jowar was 4 per cent higher than MSP and recorded a 57 per cent increase from the year-ago period, according to Agmarknet portal. However, experts wonder why the acreage under jowar in the current rabi season has declined from a year ago even though mandi prices being higher by over 60 per cent from last year.
Jowar is one of the two crops in the current rabi season where there has been a drop in acreage, whereas the area under all other crops has increased coverage. In overall production of jowar, as much as 70 per cent comes from the rabi season and only 30 per cent is contributed by the kharif season.
“We are growing bajra out of compulsion as there is no canal irrigation and the groundwater has also depleted very fast. Farmers who were growing vegetables and wheat 25 years ago are now left with only bajra. If the east Rajasthan canal project is implemented, we may again switch over to commercial crops,” said Omkar Mal Jat, sarpanch of Nimeda in Jaipur district.
Echoing similar sentiments, Rampal Jat, president of Kisan Mahapanchayat, said before Indira Gandhi canal reached western Rajasthan, farmers used to grow bajra, moth and guar. Now the entire area is growing wheat, mustard, cotton and other cash crops. “The government policy and change of food habits will decide the growth of millets,” said Rampal Jat.
On current high prices of jowar, Jat said it was due to scarcity in cattle feed that prices have soared. Otherwise, farmers sold this millet crop at 30 per cent below MSP in 2021 (Oct-Dec).
Analyzing the last three years’ area, production and yield of millets (bajra, jowar, ragi and small millets), businessline found that there has been a fluctuation of yield at the national and state levels among the top three producers.
Agriculture scientists attribute this to impact of climate change, though they agreed that the scale is lower in millets compared to other crops.
For instance, all-India productivity of jowar was a tonne/hectare in 2019-20, 1.13 tonnes/hectare in 2020-21 and 1.11 tonnes/hectare in 2021-22. In the case of bajra, the yield in Uttar Pradesh, the second biggest growth, was 2.11 tonnes/hectare in 2019-20, 2.22 tonnes/hectare in 2020-21 and 2.16 tonnes/hectare in 2021-22.
“The productivity of bajra in Uttar Pradesh is higher than in Syria, which is among the top three in the world in millet yield. It shows there is variety available in the country and the Center has to take the initiative to ensure that the biggest millet producer Rajasthan also comes to the same level of yield as in UP,” said a young entrepreneur who has started a venture on value-added millet products.