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Study moots steps to boost paddy cultivation

By K. Venkiteswaran

KOCHI, APRIL 4 . A study report that recommended trebling of paddy production to sustain the agrarian economy of the State is yet to receive the attention of the Government.

The study jointly undertaken by the Teachers Organisation of the Kerala Agriculture University of Thrissur, Centre for Environment and Development of Thiruvananthapuram and the Centre for Science and Technology for Rural Development , in the late Nineties had brought out the widespread pessimism among a cross-section of the people that "there is no future in paddy cultivation" and the State was far from attaining self-sufficiency in food production.

However, the study, conducted by a team headed by Dr. Gangadharan, had said it was possible to attain an annual paddy production of 36 lakh tonnes even in the bleak scenario of fast dwindling paddy fields and the younger generation turning away from paddy cultivation.

One of the major recommendations of the report was the formation of a Paddy Board with the avowed objective of increasing paddy cultivation and productivity using modern appropriate technology. The present practice of separate packages for different paddy-cultivated areas in the State must go, the report argued. The Paddy Board should be the nodal Agency, which would coordinate the entire gamut of the functioning of various agencies that are at present active in promoting and giving assistance for paddy cultivation.

The study suggested that fragmented paddy fields be brought together and a movement formed to revive this ailing sector. It lauded attempts like `group farming' and the Group Approach for Locally Adapted and Sustainable Agriculture. The stress was on utilising the locally available resources and bringing the various agriculture-related operations from seeding to harvesting, processing and marketing under one roof. The formation of cooperative societies of paddy farmers in all panchayats is a sine qua non for the success of the group approach, which was found successful in the panchayats of Thenkurussi, Nalleppilly and Elappully in Palakkad district. During the LDF regime, the People's Plan Campaign was closely linked with farm development, it said.

The report found fault with the present system of the Agriculture and Irrigation departments functioning as two different entities, lacking coordination.

The farmers should be given full right to the usage of water and the present functioning of the Command Area Development Authority should be restructured.

At the State level, schemes should be drawn up to produce and distribute organic manure since nearly 60 per cent of the farmers were not using organic manure in their fields.

The Government should think of utilising the wastelands in the villages and suburbs and in `porombokes' the cultivation of `sheema konna' and other tree crops, and large-scale making of compost using urban and domestic waste and intermixing of legumes and green leaves as fertilizers in paddy fields to improve productivity.

The study said Krishi Bhavans should be catalysts for growth and should function as a motivating force to equip the farming community with the latest technology and measures to improve productivity and adopt modern scientific practices.

It said fair price for paddy had not been ensured, especially in comparison to cash crops. ajority of farmers in the State were in support of fixing the fair price for paddy at Rs. 750 per quintal.

For the 40 per cent marginal and small paddy farmers who do not have enough produce to sell after their consumption, the practice of having production bonus should be encouraged. It could be in the range of Rs.100 per quintal and instead of cash, it may be paid as subsidy for the inputs.

Another important suggestion was to impose a cess on paddy being brought from outside the State. It could be Rs. 500 per tonne. The State could mop

up nearly Rs.268 crores by this cess and increase the price of rice by Rs. two per kilo in the open market, the report said.

The Government should also control the price in the open market and build up a strong cooperative movement for paddy procurement, processing and marketing. At least one processing centre should be started in each district and more in the `Kole', Kuttanadan and Palakkad regions.

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