Govt overestimated annual wheat output for FY23: Data | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Govt overestimated annual wheat output for FY23: Data

Oct 22, 2023 10:45 PM IST

The fourth & final round of estimates of crop output for 2022-23, released by the agriculture ministry, showed foodgrain production was at a record high.

The government overestimated the country’s annual wheat output from the 2022-23 winter season by nearly 2%, revised official figures showed last week, pointing to unreliable data and outdated methods of crop estimation that often complicate efforts to fight inflation.

Getting production estimates right is critical for food management, fixing export targets and keeping prices affordable in a country of 1.4 billion people, 800 million of who depend on food hand outs. (REUTERS)
Getting production estimates right is critical for food management, fixing export targets and keeping prices affordable in a country of 1.4 billion people, 800 million of who depend on food hand outs. (REUTERS)

The fourth and final round of estimates of crop output for 2022-23, released by the agriculture ministry last week, showed foodgrain production was at a record high. However, wheat production stood at 110 million tonnes, down 1.7% from the initial estimate of 112 million tonnes.

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To be sure, the final estimate of the winter staple stood higher by 4.7% than last year’s output of 105.7 million tonnes, according to ministry data. The government releases four quarterly projections of crop output a year.

Getting production estimates right is critical for food management, fixing export targets and keeping prices affordable in a country of 1.4 billion people, 800 million of who depend on food hand outs.

READ | Foodgrain output at record high: Centre

The revised estimate of 110 million tonnes of wheat output, down from 112 million tonnes projected earlier, is still a record, the government said.

Despite the ample harvest, the world’s second-largest wheat grower is battling high cereal inflation for at least 12 months. A bumper harvest should normally lead to falling prices. Cereal inflation continues to be in the double digits and wheat prices climbed nearly 7.4% in September, according to latest official data.

After a spate of harsh measures to cool prices, the government has acknowledged its production estimates were under dispute. Grain traders did not agree that the government’s figures for wheat output were accurate, pointing out that production this year couldn’t have been more than 103 million tonnes, which means a gap of nearly 10 million tonnes.

The divergence, meaning the difference between government and industry estimates, needed to be reconciled and accounted for to control inflation better, food secretary Sanjeev Chopra said at a meeting of Roller Flour Millers’ Federation of India on September 25.

“To ensure that this kind of disparity is kept to the bare minimum, the triangulation is going to happen,” the top official said, suggesting the government will recheck its estimates.

READ | Mughal-era practice behind unclear food output estimates?

The problem of unreliable data is not new. In 2016, the government estimated 93.5 million tonnes of wheat output despite a drought. Private traders estimated at least 5 million tonnes lower output than the official number. They were proved right, as wheat prices soon started rising. This led to the government abolishing the 10% import duty to spur imports.

The agriculture ministry largely depends on production data provided by states. Local revenue officials called patwaris and district agriculture officials still use outdated eye estimates and a revenue system developed by the Mughal emperor Akbar nearly 500 years ago, a former Union agriculture secretary said, declining to be named.

The government is now switching to more advanced technologies to estimate crop output, an official of the agriculture ministry said. “From this kharif or summer season onwards, the ministry will try out a programme called Yield Estimation System based on Technology (YES-Tech) to gather data on rice and wheat,” the official said, seeking anonymity. The programme will rely on date from satellites and remote sensing to determine output.

As of now, the YES-Tech programme will be aimed primarily to estimate crop losses for better implementation of a flagship farm insurance scheme called the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Zia Haq reports on public policy, economy and agriculture. Particularly interested in development economics and growth theories.

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