While I sit down to pen this blog, there are some serious incidents happening in the “Farming Capital” of TamilNadu.
- 18 farmers have committed suicide so far due to prevailing drought in rice cultivation.
- Cauvery – The spine river of TamilNadu that irrigated the farming belt of TamilNadu has no water flow
- South West monsoons have drastically failed which has never happened in the history before.
- Farmers await long for the agricultural subsidy promised by Govt. of TamilNadu and
- Around 11 Lakhs Acres of farming land that holds the staple food of TamilNadu, Rice Paddy is drought affected, thus leading the gloom of farmers’ life.
And all these circumstances are on the Cauvery Belt of TamilNadu. While the whole TamilNadu is getting ready for the dawn of Pongal festival, the hopes of Lakhs of farmers remain in vain. The Chola Kindom, once considered to be the fertile rice bowl of TamilNadu, is drying down and slowly dying down of climatic changes on one end and also due to the traditional agricultural practices on the other end. Both these prime factors affect the agricultural yield in terms of reduced quantity of output per acre for all the farmers. The below factors which I have highlighted are some of the factors that prevail in the land of Cauvery in current situation:
1) Failure of South West Monsoon – Cauvery belt comprises of Tanjavur, Thiruvarur and Nagapattinam districts with 14.47 lakh hectares of farming land in which Tanjavur occupies 57% of the Cauvery belt. In the 57% of the land in Tanjavur, around 36% of the land is currently affected by drought conditions. This is due to the large dependency on Cauvery River and on the South West monsoon. While nature is not in human control, the unpreparedness among the farming community to face this unexpected monsoon failure has led them to losses for every seed they sowed in the paddy fields.
2) Agricultural nature – Ever since from older Chola empire, the whole belt of Cauvery is grown for 3 seasonal rotations (3 Bogums) with Rice crops for 2 major cycles followed by Blackgram and Greengram with some areas focusing on Gingelly and Cotton crops during the 3 season. As the climatic conditions changed, soil conditions drifted, dependency in agricultural methodologies changed but the crop plantations continued to be same. These factors over the period of time has made the yield per acre to be less due to traditional agricultural practices which did not adapt to the change of climatic conditions thus affecting the productivity per acre of land.
3) Continuing power crisis – Electricity infrastructure which is the vital factor for agriculture, is now an added crisis to the largely drought hit green land. Even though farmers adopted to bore irrigation in the recent past, due to the scarcity and restricted electricity supply they are unable to save their crops. On an average there is atleast 8 hour power shut-down in Cauvery belt regions during the day time that prevents a lower-middle-class farmer to rely on bore irrigation thus leading to crop failure.
4) Dependency of subsidies – The subsidies announced by Govt. of TamilNadu continue to be a night mare to the farmers. Farmers convey that the “Restructured Paddy Cultivation” (Thirundhiya Nel Sagupadi) scheme announced by the Govt and Ministry of Agriculture did not fetch any subsidy to them. They also convey that no one from Agricultural Ministry has approached them for the inspection of this crop cultivation methodology. Various other schemes like Diesel Subsidy to run the motors/generators during power cut and assured crop insurance just remain on paper with no measures on actual subsidy grant.
5) Farmers’ debt – Farmers convey that it is not so easy to obtain loans from the nationalised banks for agriculture and for its allied practices. As advertised by central and state governments the application for bank loans are not easily sanctioned. In contrary it demands lots of processing time and documentations. Loans attained from Co-operative societies remain unsettled for the farmers due to reduced per acre yield and reduced revenue due to intermediate brokers in the government procurement system.
6) Increase of labour cost – With increase in agricultural failures, reduced per acre yield and reduced revenues, agricultural labourers employed in farming & allied farming made their shift to various other industries like ready-made garments and ginning mills. This has reduced the labour pool for green economy, thus leading to scarce of skilled labours for farming and increase of cost to employ the labours. On the other hand introduction of modern farming techniques has also made this labour pool to be in short of supply.
While monsoon failure can’t be in control, the present condition alarms the preparedness required to overcome reduction in rainfall in the future years. Agriculture requires modern water conservation techniques which will help to preserve the rainwater during its occurrence and make use of it during the dry periods. A huge amount of investment is required from government in this space that will propel the modern agrarian economy. If required the government should open new avenues from the private players or by private-public partnership (PPP) to invest in this task, thereby increase the water conservation and usage methodologies.
Considering various factors like nature of soil in Cauvery belt (Alluvial & Tertiary), climatic conditions and ground water levels, it is not easy to change the traditional crop sowing cycle. Even though the farming community adopted for change of crops like Plantain & Castor as an alternate for Rice paddy, those did not fetch a good yield and revenue due to the soil nature which suits only for rice crops. A farmer at Cauvery belt conveys that they know only rice cultivation which they continue for more than 4 generations and nothing else.
One of the farmer expressed his grief and difficulties involved in dependency of government procurement system, which is largely controlled by the intermediate brokers who demands commission charges per sack of rice bag (Ranges from Rs 2 to Rs 10 currently). If the farmers fail to pay commission, they end up in less price fix-up by the procurement authorities for the rice bags. To prevent this, the farmers are compelled to pay the commission charges to the brokers who influence the procurement authorities. There is a large correction factor required to remove the brokers and strengthen the rice procurement system and this is possible only by governmental bodies.
Power failure is the failure of the government which inturn has blown the agriculture of Cauvery Belt to toss. While government is so concerned about the supply of electricity in Chennai for supporting industrial production, it has forgotten the agricultural belt which supplied food to the state since its origin. With just 3 Hrs of electricity and no assurance on diesel subsidy, every farmer in Cauvery belt is depressed and unable to irrigate the crops by motors and compressors. With scarcity in field labourers and huge dependency of modern farming equipments’ which operates on electricity and fuel, crop maintenance (which inturn will decrease the per acre yield) and crop cultivation took a heavy hit.
The governmental bodies require a candid and instantaneous response on subsidies grant and phase wise relieving of the agricultural debt to the farmers based on their individual land holding and sowing patterns.
The condition in Cauvery river belt alarms and challenges the future agricultural system in TamilNadu. This threatens the prospective food yield of our regions which will in turn inflate the food economy of the state. While we blame the monsoon failure at one end, the governmental measures in granting power & subsidies should also be taken as equal responsibility for the sufferings of the farmers of the largest farming belt. Every farmer at Cauvery belt is morally depressed and lost their hopes of future agriculture which is a dangerous sign to the food economy. What we eat on our plates daily has the rice cultivated in the River Belts of Cauvery.
There is a huge role that is required to be played by Government of TamilNadu in this crisis time and it should be a responsible role. A lower middle-class farmer spends to an average of Rs 20,000 per acre from sowing till cultivating the rice paddy. Therefore the govt’s relief grant for drought crops for per acre should be atleast Rs 25,000 – Rs 27,000. This should be an immediate measure to prevent more suicidal deaths among the farming community in Cauvery belt.
With failure of monsoon at one end and with the hopes of subsidy from TN Govt on other end, the farmers of Cauvery Belt have not only sowed the crops, but the future of their family and the happiness of their kids. Everyone knows only agriculture and nothing else and the words of farmer saying that they would stop agriculture if they could not revive the investment in fields, was the heights of their depression and trouble.
The “Rice Bowl of TamilNadu” which was drenched by River Cauvery in the past is presently soaked and sodden by the tears of the farmers.
One last thing:
Just visit a drought hit village in Cauvery River Belt and meet a farmer there. Convey the reason to farmer that your visit is to cover the difficulties of drought and present a report for possible little drought relief. Irrespective of your age and whom you are, the farmer will raise his hands and worship you seeing you as a God with the last remains of hopes in “HIS” eyes for which any heart would shatter and torn to pieces. And remember “HE” is the who, fed rice on our plates that we ate daily.