Problems of Crop estimation in India:

Early season forecasts are vital for planning and policy formulation. However, India’s “advance estimates” of crop production, the agriculture ministry’s version of crop output forecasts, have lacked credence. This is evident from the huge difference between the first advance estimates and final estimates. So far, the use of modern technology, notably satellite-based remote sensing techniques, remains meagre.

clip_image001 The unrealistic harvest projections lead to unsound policies concerning imports, exports, internal trade and stockholding of agro-commodities. This invariably causes market distortions and creates problems for producers, traders and end-users.

clip_image001[1] Faulty data results in the faults in the policy decisions also in case of commercial crops such as cotton, sugarcane and oilseeds, for which the official projections often vary widely from those of the trade and industry. One example was recent decision of the government to ban cotton exports. It was retracted soon in the wake of adverse political fallout and outcry by cotton farmers.

However, the Government is not apathetic towards improving the quality of crop forecasting. The major problem of the Central Government is that historically, it has been over dependent upon the states to source crop-related information & data. Then, there has been a paucity of technology-driven means to validate the veracity of such information. The first advanced estimates which are issued immediately after completion of crop sowing are the earliest emerging trends of supply scenario. They have been compiled practically on the basis of visual observations by the state agriculture departments. Many a times, these observations were actually not recorded by field visits but mere anecdotal ideas. That is why the use of space technology for crop assessment and drought monitoring was inevitable.

clip_image001[2] In late 1980s, the widespread crop damage and livestock death was caused and this was one of the chief reasons that led the government to realize the use of space technology. At that time, suitable methodologies and software packages to capture cropped area and crop condition through remote sensing were lacking.


clip_image001[3] In 1988, Government of India started a project “Crop Acreage and Production Estimation (CAPE)” to collect the statistics of Agricultural Output. But to forecast of Crops at sowing stage requires weather data and information of economic factors. In 2006, a new programme was launched which aimed at amalgamating the information gathered from different sources, including land-based data and remote sensing inputs, to come up with timely and objective crop forecasts.

clip_image001[4] This programme, called “Forecasting agricultural output using space, agro-meteorological and land-based observations” (FASAL), has been evolving into a reliable crop prediction mechanism.

clip_image001[5] A team of ISRO/Department of Space, State Remote Sensing Applications Centers, State Agricultural Universities and many other institutions are working on FASAL.

clip_image001[6] The remote sensing component of FASAL is being handled by the Ahmedabad-based Space Application Centre of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro).


clip_image001[7] ISRO’s National Remote Sensing Centre, Hyderabad, is also operating a “National Agricultural Drought Assessment and Monitoring System” (NADAMS).

clip_image001[8] This system is meant to provide real-time information about the prevalence and severity of droughts at district and sub-district level in 13 key agricultural states. It prepares fortnightly reports on droughts by using advanced wide-field sensors of satellites like Resourcesat-1, IRS 1C and IRS 1D.

clip_image001[9] NADAMS is providing near real time assessment of agricultural drought at district level for 9 states and sub district level for 4 states, in terms of prevalence, severity and persistence, during kharif season (June-Nov) and submission of monthly drought reports to the Ministry of Agriculture and State Departments of Agriculture and Relief of different states has been the main focus of this project. The methodology essentially reflects the integration of satellite derived crop condition/surface wetness with ground collected rainfall and crop area progression to evolve decision rules on the prevalence, intensity and persistence of agricultural drought situation. The drought information is effectively used for contingency planning and for drought declaration process.


clip_image001[10] Since both FASAL and NADAMS have reached their operational stage after having developed the necessary methodologies, these have now been merged and put under the control of the newly launched National Crop Forecast Centre (NCFC) in April 2012. NCFC is an integrated centre which will provide estimates of crop output and assess the drought situation in the country through latest technologies. NCFC will prepare in-season forecasts for major crops such as rice, wheat, sugarcane and maize. This centre, located at the New Delhi-based Pusa institute campus, is said to be adequately equipped with image-processing facilities, laboratories and software.

clip_image001[11] It’s worth note that NCFC has been named after the well-known Indian statistician P C Mahalanobis, founder of the Indian Statistical Institute, who played a significant role in evolving methods to estimate crop yields. The NCFC is set to begin issuing crop forecasts and drought situation reports from the ensuing kharif season for 11 major crops. More crops are planned to be taken up subsequently. If the NCFC manages to skilfully collate the crop-related information obtained from diverse sources, including Isro and the weather office, to come up with trustworthy pre-harvest forecasts, it would serve a highly useful purpose.