In TN’S rice bowl, a crisis of cultivation
GAJA AFTERMATH Production may decline by 2.7mn metric tonnes
CHENNAI: Cyclone Gaja, which destroyed standing crops in vast tracts in the Cauvery delta, the rice bowl of Tamil Nadu, and the ongoing agrarian crisis in this part of the country (caused, in part, and ironically, by shortage of water) might push rice production in the state down by 2.7 million metric tonnes for the current season (2018-19), according to farmers in the area and data released by Union Agriculture Ministry.
The cyclone struck the delta districts on November 15, during the so-called milk or dough stage of development of the rice crop (a stage at which the maturation of the crop starts). The result: yield in 2 lakh hectares has halved to an average of 2.5 metric tonnes per hectare instead of the previous 5 metric tonnes. It has been affected, although not to the same extent, on other fields. All told, conservative estimates put the hit on account of Gaja at around 1 million metric tonnes.
In the five delta districts of Thanjavur, Tiruvarur, Nagapattinam, and Pudukottai, rice was grown on 1 million hectares.
Compare this to the previous season (2017-18), when rice production stood at 6.6 million metric tonnes from 1.17 million hectares. Buoyed by this, the state government set a target of 1.2 million hectares for Samba (the August-january crop) cultivation for the current season with a projected production of 7 million metric tonnes.
This was to push the total cultivable area of food grains to 1.8 million hectares and production to 11 million metric tonnes.
But data released by the Union Agriculture Ministry as well as ground reality paints a different picture. A report released by the ministry on January 24 says Samba cultivation in Tamil Nadu had come down to 860000 hectares, a 27% slide from last year.
“This time, Samba is being raised in only 860000 hectares and Kuruvai (a short term rice crop) in 80,000 acres – under the Chief Minister’s Kuruvai special package scheme. As such, we can expect a harvest of 5.7 million metric tonnes,” S Ramadoss, Secretary, Tamizhaga Cauvery Farmers Association, told HT.
“If we take the Union Agriculture Ministry’s report i nto account, there will be a drop of 1.77 million metric tonnes this year since it indicates a drastic reduction of 317000 hectares in Samba cultivation. So, due to the cyclone and shrinkage of cultivable area, in rice production we are expecting that a total loss of 2.7 million metric tonnes when compared to the previous year,” he explained. Gaja may well have exacerbated existing problems.
S Cauvery Dhanapalan, general secretary, Delta Farmers Protection Association, says most farmers who raised samba in October are in distress and many are opting out of farming altogether. The reasons according to him: the prolonged water dispute with Karnataka which meant farmers got no water from the river he is named after; an inconsistent North East monsoon for the past few years; and severe drought in 2016-17. “Further, the cost of cultivation has gone up manifold,” he explained.
That agriculture is not a viable option anymore is also forcing many to give it up, says P R Pandian, Co-ordinator, Tamil Nadu All Farmers Organizing Committee. “Besides skyrocketing input costs, market fluctuation denies good returns even during a good harvest. After globalization, import of agri products has emerged as a major challenge for farmers in Tamil Nadu,” he added. Actually, this is a nationwide problem -- one reason why farmers across the country are in distress. “Currently, ~1,750 is the Minimum Support Price (MSP) per quintal of paddy. Since we are spending around ~ 30 for producing a kg of paddy, MSP should be enhanced to a minimum of ~3000 per quintal,” Pandian said.
Gagandeep Singh Bedi, Principal Secretary and Commissioner, Agriculture Production, Tamil Nadu, agreed that there is a loss in yield due to the cyclone.
“Of course, there was a huge loss as crop in the milk stage was battered by cyclone Gaja. We don’t want to disregard what the farmers say. While assessing the loss, farmers who have incurred 33% of crop damage will definitely get their crop insurance in the upcoming season,” Singh said.
He doesn’t think there has been a reduction in the area under rice cultivation and says the Union government may have used September data for its report, while sowing for the Samba season started in some parts in October. “Tamil Nadu will achieve its cultivation target this season by the end of February,” he added.
Cyclone Gaja struck the delta districts on November 15, during the so-called milk or dough stage of development of the rice crop.