Wednesday June 26, 2019
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Delayed Monsoon Spells Trouble for Farmers

The real challenge will be looking at the income security of small and marginal farmers in rain-fed areas

Monsoon, Trouble, Farmers
The areas with irrigation such as Punjab and Haryana are not of concern. Pixabay

Southwest monsoon this year has become a thing of concern for policymakers as it has not just been delayed by a week, but it is also likely to be sluggish and erratic, which may spell trouble for the farm sector.

Paddy, the primary crop of the kharif season, is likely to be hit as June as well as July are expected to be rain-deficit. The output of pulses such as arhar (pigeon pea), soybean and coarse cereals is also likely to be affected.

As droughts occurred in patches across the country, there won’t be a disastrous impact on the overall food-grain production but it may have beating on small and marginal farmers by way of breaching their income security.

“The areas with irrigation such as Punjab and Haryana are not of concern. The real challenge will be looking at the income security of small and marginal farmers in rain-fed areas,” said T. Nandkumar, former Union Agriculture Secretary.

Monsoon, Trouble, Farmers
Southwest monsoon this year has become a thing of concern for policymakers. Pixabay

A senior official at the Agriculture Ministry said that it was in constant touch with the states to apprise the Centre of the developing situation.

“We have asked them to be prepared with precautionary and remedial measures in case there is deficit rainfall,” said the official, requesting anonymity.

However, there was no clarity if the state governments have ensured optimum seed reserves if first sowing attempt goes waste due to erratic rainfall.

The Food Ministry has started procuring over 50,000 tonnes of onion to deal with shortage if output goes down, indicating the government is not optimistic about good rainfall this year.

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Farmers have been advised by private weather forecaster Skymet to postpone sowing by almost a week of the conventional dates as it said there are less chances of rains if the onset of the monsoon is delayed.

If there is a long gap between two rain spells, there is high probability of newly planted seeds getting killed.

Skymet has predicted “below average” monsoon — 93 per cent of LPA — this year with indications of higher risk in the eastern parts and major portion of Central India being rain deficient.

The average, or normal, rainfall in the country is defined between 96 and 104 per cent of a 50-year average for the entire four-month monsoon season, or Long Period Average (LPA), which is 887 mm.

Monsoon, Trouble, Farmers
Paddy, the primary crop of the kharif season, is likely to be hit as June as well as July are expected to be rain-deficit. Pixabay

Meanwhile, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted “near normal” monsoon — 95 per cent of the LPA — with evenly distributed rainfall.

It, however, said there is 51 per cent chance that the monsoon would be normal or above while there is 49 per cent probability that it remains below normal.

The Agriculture Ministry official said the rainfall this time is expected to be “erratic” and “sluggish” citing recent developments related to the monsoon.

The second half of the rainy season would see better rainfall as August and September are expected to see normal rains. However, the entire season is expected to end on a deficit note.

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The rainfall in June will be 77 per cent (164 mm) of the LPA while it will be 91 per cent (289 mm) in July, 102 per cent (261 mm) in August and 99 per cent (173 mm) in September, as per Skymet.

Skymet has said that paddy production is expected to reduce to 97.78 million tonnes this kharif season compared to 101.96 million tonnes in the previous season.

It also said there is 40 per cent possibility of about 66 per cent districts in the country being deficient or largely deficient if the monsoon is “below normal”.

Nandkumar expects about 100 districts, including those in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region, Telangana, Bihar and Jharkhand, to be rain deficient. (IANS)

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Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning Help Shrimp, Vegetable Farmers Reap Good Harvest

Aibono works with about 500 farmers and has about 200 acres are under active cultivation

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Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning have entered aquaculture and agriculture farms in some states benefitting the farmers in cutting down their labour and the uncertainties of trial and error methods.

Thanks to artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies used by companies like the city-based Coastal Aquaculture Research Institute (CARI) and Aibono Smart Farming Pvt Ltd, Bengaluru, shrimp and vegetable farmers are able to increase their yield, cut their costs and have better market access.

V. Geetha, who practices aquaculture in Andhra Pradesh, told IANS: “Before signing up for CARI’s ‘FarmMOJO’ — an AI app-enabled farm advisor tool — we used to jot down the critical data in a notebook and act on it. But we wouldn’t know how much to feed the shrimp. There would either be over or under feeding.”

Since he tied up with CARI six months back, Prakash said, the company takes care of water quality tests in his pond and all the required data is available on his mobile with suggested action to be taken.

“Earlier the quantum of feed used would differ. Now we use the correct feed quantity, which has reduced the feed cost. The cost of medicines has also decreased. Earlier many would suggest several things. Now we go by what CARI says,” Prakash remarked.

“At 600,000 ton a year, India’s shrimp exports stand at Rs 45,000 crore annually. But no major technology was used so far in shrimp farming,” Rajamanohar Somasundaram, Co-Founder and CEO, CARI told IANS.

He said, now that the shrimp farming has been digitised, the data collected has been fed into the FarmMOJO programme.

“From the data, we have built machine learning. The software advises farmers on the use of feed, medicines and other things. The tool also helps in predicting the chances of a disease outbreak in the client farm based on the data available from other ponds,” he said.

The company has two revenue streams viz., subscription fee for FarmMOJO and commission on sales of products of partner companies. “At present, we have about 750 ponds spread over Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Odisha. We will soon enter West Bengal.This year we plan to cover 2,500 ponds,” Somasundaram said.

Farmers, India
An Indian woman helps her farmer husband irrigate a paddy field using a traditional system, on the outskirts of Gauhati, India, Feb. 1, 2019. VOA

In agriculture, Bengaluru-based Aibono Smart Farming Pvt Ltd and its AI product are helping the farmers in Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu to match the supply and demand of hill vegetables.

“In India, the land holdings by farmers are small. So, precision farming could be used only if the supply and demand are matched. The other problem is, good price realisation if the yield is good. Farmers do not have a foresight on what to produce and when,” Vivek Rajkumar, Founder told IANS.

Rajkumar said fruits and vegetables are a $250 billion market in India far bigger than that of fast moving consumer goods. But there are no e-commerce players in this segment.

“Aibono is like a dairy cooperative. It assures farmers of buying every kilogram of their produce at a good price so that they can make money. The average land holding of the farmers in the network ranges between 0.5 to 1.5 acre,” Rajkumar said.

“We collect about 2,000 data points like weather, soil tests, photographs etc. Open farm is like a factory without a roof. It is dynamic. But farmer’s activities are routine and predictable. But agronomy has to be changed to dynamic mode,” Rajkumar said.

With farmers seeing increasing yield but not commensurate increase in realisation, Aibono decided to look at the demand side and started to study the consumption pattern.

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“At the retail end, people buy a fixed quantity of the vegetables. The buying pattern in predictable but it is the supply that varies,” Rajkumar said.

“We signed up with retailers and hotels assuring them of supplies. For the farmers, we started calibrating issue of seeds so that the supplies could be assured at certain quantities at a specified time,” Rajkumar said.

Aibono works with about 500 farmers and has about 200 acres are under active cultivation. Rajkumar said: “we about 300 retailers in its network and next year the number is set to grow several times. We charge Re 1 per kg as fee for service to the farmers.” (IANS)