Thanks to a good monsoon, the drought risk experienced last year has been avoided for the Kharif season 2024-25. In an interview, Maharashtra Agriculture Minister Dhananjay Munde said the state is anticipating a 20-to 25 percent increase in post-harvest crop production. Excerpts.

Q. What challenges are confronting the government this Kharif season 2024-25?

Dhananjay Munde: The region experienced a 12-day dry spell after the monsoon arrived, causing concern. Heavy rainfall was received in June for the first three days, followed by another dry spell. This year, the dry spell only lasted for 12 days, compared to the 20 to 25 days experienced last year during the monsoon season. The state suffered a severe drought last year which led to significant challenges for farmers. This year, the goal was to avoid a similar situation due to changing climate patterns. Fortunately, most districts received moderate to good rainfall.

Q. How is the Kharif sowing going on?

Dhananjay Munde: Currently, 66 percent of kharif sowing has been completed across Maharashtra. The sowing of soybean, cotton, moong, udit, and intercrop tur is 99 percent completed. Paddy plantation is mainly restricted to Eastern Vidarbha and Konkan regions. After initial setbacks, the rainfall has been good, recording 106 percent, which has helped farmers engage in field activities actively. We anticipate an increase in the area under the Kharif crop by 1.10 lakh hectares, bringing it close to 152 lakh hectares.

Q. Can you provide quantifiable data on post-harvest production?

Dhananjay Munde: Honestly, it’s difficult to determine the exact crop production at this stage. It’s still too early. However, if the favorable rain pattern for crops continues and there are no natural disasters, we anticipate a 20 to 25 percent increase in Kharif crop production.

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Q. Are you ruling out dopar perni (resowing of seeds)?

Dhananjay Munde: In early June, we issued an advisory urging farmers to take their time with sowing their crops. We advised them to wait for at least 100 mm of rainfall before starting sowing. These precautions helped to prevent the need for a second sowing. In the past, farmers often hurriedly sow their seeds after the first rainfall, only to find that the lack of subsequent rain negatively affected the seeds and seedlings, causing them to wither due to the lack of necessary water. This second sowing usually leads to additional expenses for farmers.

Q. What measures are you taking to address farmers’ financial problems?

Dhananjay Munde: Farmers should have easy access to crop loans in time. Secondly, crop insurance should be hassle-free. Thirdly, they should not be subjected to exploitation by private money lenders. The government is strictly monitoring all three issues to lend a helping hand to farmers.

Q. During the last Kharif season, farmers could not receive the minimum support price (MSP) for cotton and soybean, leading them to sell their crops below MSP.

Dhananjay Munde: The domestic market has been severely impacted by the international drop in soybean and cotton prices. It is evident that farmers have been unable to fetch good prices for their soybean and cotton crops. For example, while the MSP for soybeans is Rs 4,600 per quintal, farmers have been receiving only Rs 4,050. A few years ago, soybean prices were much higher, reaching up to Rs 7,000 to 9,000 above the MSP. Therefore, it is crucial for the state government to intervene through crop insurance policies and financial support to mitigate the price gap.

In the budget announced for 2024-25, we have allocated Rs 5,000 per hectare of financial assistance for farmers which will be provided for up to two hectares of land. Whether it involves procurement or financial aid, the state government must step in and assist farmers in overcoming the challenges they face after harvest and in dealing with post-harvest and post-marketing losses.

Q. In the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, farmers’ unrest was apparently overlooked. Did the Center or the State give priority to consumers who constitute a bigger vote bank than farmers?

Dhananjay Munde: I believe it’s important to find a balance between the needs of farmers and consumers. We should strive to address the rights and challenges of both groups and not disadvantage farmers.

In Maharashtra, there may be 1.56 crore farmers, and each farmer has an average family size of five persons. We should not underestimate their population and their role in society. Furthermore, farmers and the agriculture sector should be viewed differently. They are the backbone of our society and cannot be judged solely by numbers.

Q. Are you guaranteeing MSP for farmers during the 2024-25 Kharif season?

Dhananjay Munde: It is guaranteed under the rules that farmers are entitled to MSP. I believe that farmers should not only recover their investment expenditure but also receive an additional 50 percent profit.

Even the most developed nations, such as the United States of America, the United Kingdom, and Japan, provide substantial subsidies for farmers and the agriculture sector. The Dr Swaminathan Commission Report, which emphasized higher remuneration through MSP, never contested subsidies for farmers. As we are an agriculture-driven economy, it is important for us to support farmers generously. The well-being of farmers cannot be compromised, as they drive the rural economy in Maharashtra.

Q. How do you explain the rise in fertilizer prices, which adds to the investment expenditure of farmers?

Dhananjay Munde: The prices of fertilizers are influenced by international market rates, but the Center has stepped in to provide subsidies to maintain stable prices. Sometimes, we also face artificial price hikes. To tackle these issues, Maharashtra is one of the first states to promote the use of nano urea and nano diammonium phosphate (DAP).

These nano fertilizers reduce the use of traditional urea and DAP by almost 50 percent, making it more cost-effective for farmers. A 500ml bottle of nano urea has the same impact on crop nitrogen levels as a bag of traditional urea. Additionally, it is effective in covering a larger surface area of ​​the crop without harming the soil or underground water, as often seen with conventional methods.

Q. Have the changes been made? Are farmers satisfied with it?

Dhananjay Munde: During the Kharif season, four lakh farmers have adopted nano urea. Over the next three years, it is expected that more farmers will start using it as they see its benefits. The goal is for the use of nano urea to spread naturally through word of mouth, as we don’t want to force it on farmers. Farmers are aware of what’s best for their crops. Once they realize the benefits of nano urea, such as healthier crops and increased production, it is expected that there will be a growing demand for it in the coming years.

Q. The issue of farmer suicides is often discussed, but it remains unresolved. What do you think?

Dhananjay Munde: It is a stain on our progressive state, which prides itself on economic progress and growth. I acknowledge that even the loss of a single farmer’s life due to financial distress, failed crops, or any other reason is a matter of grave concern. I believe it is a disgrace. Our government is dedicated to the well-being of farmers. Financial assistance, along with proper guidance, can help improve the situation.