Telangana should not dictate to farmers what to produce
The Telangana government’s decision to dictate to the farmers what to grow and on how much area seems ill-advised, regardless of the valid reasons for modification in the prevailing cropping pattern. The mooted game plan is to reduce acreage under paddy, which guzzles water and is already over-supplied, and expand the cultivation of cotton and red gram (tur or arhar), which, the government mistakenly believes, would fetch higher returns for growers. No doubt, the underlying objectives of this move — to save water and align production with demand — are indisputable. But the way these are sought to be achieved is untenable. The new crops are proposed to be forced upon the farmers without seeking their wishes or ascertaining the suitability of the crops for their fields. Those who disobey the government order stand to lose the dole of Rs 5,000 per acre, given under the Rythu Bandhu scheme in every kharif and rabi season. No wonder, the farmers have questioned this move and are asking for firm assurances about the prices and marketing the alternative crops.
Their unease emanates from the uncertainty over whether the assigned crops would prove as remunerative as paddy, which is procured by the government at the minimum support prices the Centre sets. A sizable part of paddy is grown in Telangana, as elsewhere in the country, on lowlands, which are prone to waterlogging during the monsoon. These areas are unfit to grow cotton, red gram, and many other crops. A good deal of cost-intensive and time-consuming spadework in the form of land surveys is, therefore, called for to assess the land capability and local agro-ecological conditions before allotting the crops to individual farmers. This crop regulation plan has managed to attract nationwide attention, despite everybody’s preoccupation with coronavirus-related issues, largely because it bucks the ongoing trend of granting greater freedom and multiple options to the farmers to maximise their income with minimum government intervention. This plan, on the contrary, forecloses all choices for farmers, leaving them totally dependent on the government. The Centre and some states have also floated schemes to wean the farmers away from the water- and input-intensive crops like paddy and sugarcane. But they propose to do so by incentivising them to accept the changes rather than compelling them for that. Haryana, for instance, is offering Rs 7,000 an acre for replacing rice with maize or other crops. Some other states are giving free inputs like seeds, production technology, and marketing support for the alternative crops. But no state has yet resorted to negative tactics like denying grants.
Farm experts are also wary of Telangana’s model of crop diversification. They are particularly concerned about the mooted expansion of cotton cultivation in a state where the bulk of the farmers committing suicide are cotton growers. This crop is highly sensitive to weather aberrations and is also vulnerable to pests. Red gram, the other crop sought to be promoted, is also known for high volatility in production and prices. The government-appointed agencies for providing market support to pulses normally face problems in disposing of the procured stocks. Thus, the farmers may actually be net losers if the Telangana government goes ahead with the implementation of its ill-judged plan. It should, therefore, promote crop diversification through non-coercive and farmer-friendly ways.