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Grow Paddy And Become Pauper

By Pandurang Hegde

03 July, 2008

Paddy farmers everywhere are facing the crunch and want to quit in favour of cash crops.

Recently, the minimum support price (MSP) for paddy for the kharif season was increased from Rs 745 to Rs 850 per quintal.

Though the Commission for Agriculture Costs and Prices (CACP) had recommended a revision in the MSP to Rs 1,000 per quintal, the Union finance minister did not pay heed to this proposal.Several state governments and political parties also had raised the same demand as it was essential to provide a remunerative price to the farmers.

But, the finance minister’s adamant stand is an indication of a deeper malaise and prejudice against paddy farmers in the country. Rice is the staple crop for more than 70 per cent of Indians. It is grown in an area of 44 million hectares with a production of 90 million tonnes per year. India is the second largest producer of paddy in the world after China. Unlike wheat, paddy is grown in almost all states from Kashmir to Kerala, in different agro climatic zones.

Small and marginal farmers, who contribute 78 per cent of the total food production, cultivate paddy. These farmers have evolved numerous paddy varieties that suit dry lands and water logged saline regions. The country boasted to have had 30,000 varieties of paddy crops. Unfortunately, our failure to recognise the part they played in ensuring the country’s food security has made many of the varieties to go extinct. Now, just 3,000 of them are said to be existing.

A look at the history of our agricultural policy in the last five decades indicates the gross neglect towards paddy cultivation. Because of this, the area under cultivation as well as the production has stagnated. In fact in some states like Kerala, the area under cultivation has shrunk from eight lakh hectares to two lakh hectares over the last three decades. The paddy fields have given way for cash crops and plantation crops. The high cost of paddy cultivation and the non-availability of agricultural labourers are the main reasons for this, but it is also essential to link these to the policy interventions from the state as well as Central governments that have systematically discouraged paddy cultivation.

The prejudiced attitude against paddy farmers is too glaring in the national agriculture policy. Under the National Food Security Mission (NFSM) the government has allocated Rs 70 crore to increase paddy production for 2007-08. But, allocations for horticultural crops for the same period is Rs 1150 crore! Obviously, the policy of providing subsidies for cash and horticultural crops is bound to have a negative impact on paddy cultivation. Why should the farmer grow paddy when he can get subsidy of Rs 20,000 per acre to grow banana?

The paddy farmers in the country except from Punjab and Haryana are incurring heavy losses. According to the estimates of CACP, in Bihar the net income form per hectare of paddy cultivation was Rs 60 in 1981-82. In the year 2003-04 the farmer has incurred a loss of Rs 1,264 per hectare. Though the costs of paddy cultivation may vary from region to region, it is a common phenomenon that paddy farmers are facing the crunch and want to quit in favour of cash crops. This is a clear indication of how systematically the government policies have forced the paddy farmers to quit farming.

Ironically, the paddy farmer who is responsible for growing the staple crop to feed the country is penalised in favour of those who grow cash crops. This, coupled with the increasing input costs, has been the major reason for the stagnation in paddy production and yield.

It is doubtful whether our political leaders would initiate steps to rectify the policies that have led to the present dismal scenario.

But, both the Central and state government need to intervene in the agricultural sector to rectify the problem. They need to take steps to build the confidence of paddy farmers. The marginal and small farmers from underdeveloped states like Chhathisgarh and Bihar are the backbone of the country’s paddy sector. Instead of concentrating on states like Punjab, Haryana and Andhra Pradesh to produce the staple paddy crop, authorities need to involve farmers from underdeveloped regions, including those who grow diverse paddy varieties in rain-fed lands, in the process.

In this context, a decision to provide a higher MSP of Rs 1,000 a quintal will go a long way in ensuring food security of the country.

(The writer is a paddy farmer from the Western Ghats, Karnataka)


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