In TN’S rice bowl, a cri­sis of cul­ti­va­tion

Hindustan Times (Delhi) - - NATION - M Manikan­dan manikan­[email protected]

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.

HT FILE

Cyclone Gaja struck the delta dis­tricts on Novem­ber 15, dur­ing the so-called milk or dough stage of de­vel­op­ment of the rice crop.

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