Agri Business

Drought in Telangana: Hopes dry up as rabi paddy crop withers

KV Kurmanath Hyderabad | Updated on January 15, 2018 Published on April 03, 2017

Greens and browns Farmer Ilaiah stands beside his drying paddy crop at Turkapally in Yadadri mandal (inset) a dried up borewell near Manchironi Mamilla hamlet

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Reservoir eps

With groundwater getting fast depleted, farmers in the State rue opting for rice

Ilaiah, 65, takes shelter under a tree as his agricultural motor pumps out some feeble water. After churning out a bucketful, the pump goes silent.

“I will get another bucketful after a while later. I was lucky the fifth time. See how much water I’m getting,” he says, pointing to the water flowing into the field.

Ilaiah owns about 1.5 acres of land at Turkapally village in the newly carved out Yadadri district. He, along with his son, is desperately trying to salvage the paddy crop; a part of it has already dried up. “I don’t think I can save this crop,” he says dejectedly.

The situation is no different in the neighbouring villages. Bal Reddy, a 50-year-old farmer in Manchironi Mamilla hamlet, spent ₹60,000 to dig two bore wells. Both failed him, forcing him to buy water from a farmer nearby. “I bought pipes to fetch water but the flow is too weak to water my field,” he says.

As groundwater is fast depleting, thousands of farmers in Telangana are facing drought. Adding to the woes is the fact that the farmers chose to grow paddy in several areas, misled by extensive, bountiful rains in September-October last year. “We thought we can go for paddy,” Bal Reddy admits.

With crops drying up and withering away, some farmers are simply burning them, while others are selling them as fodder. One can see lush green paddy fields as one drives along the interior roads but there’s no standing water that is vital for their survival.

Bal Reddy’s peers in his village, as in other villages, had invested much in paddy, which demands standing water. This phenomenon was acknowledged by Telangana Agriculture Minister Pocharam Srinivas Reddy. “About 90 per cent of farmers went for paddy,” he told a recent review meeting.

Those who grew the crop in areas with assured water sources, particularly in the recently rejuvenated tanks, are better off. Others are now ruing that they should have gone for the traditional rabi crops that could have faced the situation better.

Telangana has about 55 lakh farm holdings, with the average holding about 1.12 hectares. Agriculture in the State is often exposed to the vagaries of climate. Prof Jayashankar Agriculture University says about 63 per cent of the crop is rainfed and 84 per cent of the irrigated area is catered to through bore wells and dug wells.

Foodgrain estimates

The State government’s preliminary estimates of foodgrains paint a rosy picture. The estimates, released last week, said the State witnessed good rainfall in 2016-17 after two successive droughts. The production of foodgrains has been pegged at 90.59 lakh tonnes in the year, against 51.45 lakh tonnes last year.

It further said the paddy area has gone up to 17 lakh ha this year, 6 lakh ha more than last year.

Paddy has gained because the State reduced the cotton area by 3.63 lakh ha. The government had asked the cotton growers to look at alternatives owing to poor demand in the global markets.

These figures, however, don’t reflect the actual picture. If the numbers look rosy, it’s because they are being compared with last year’s. The total foodgrain area has actually fallen by 2 ha to 32 lakh ha when compared to 2013-14. The paddy area in the kharif season that year was 20 lakh ha. Paddy production fell to 55 lakh tonnes in 2016-17, against 66 lakh tonnes in 2013-14.

Sarampallly Malla Reddy, Vice-President of the All-India Kisan Sabha, says there’s a huge difference between the official targets for foodgrain production and the actual numbers. “They had targeted to achieve foodgrain production of 105 lakh tonnes in 2014-15 but we ended up with 72.18 lakh tonnes. The following year, they said they could touch the 110-lakh tonne mark but achieved barely half of it,” he says.

Similarly, while the official target for the 2016-17 kharif is 62 lakh tonnes, the State could end up with just 35 lakh tonnes, he observes.

“There’s widespread drought in the State. But the government has not started any relief measure.

“The government must provide free inputs to farmers with lesser than 10 acres. It must give interest-free loans. In times of natural disasters and droughts, the government must ensure immediate release of compensation,” he observes.

A top government official wishing anonymity admits to the precarious situation that might lead to the failure of crops in several districts.

The official, however, points out: “Mission Kakatiya (the government’s ambitious programme to revive tanks) has helped in filling up thousands of tanks. We could provide water to 5.5 lakh acres in Mahaboobnagar district alone this time through the four lift irrigation schemes.”

Besides the perennial water-starved areas, the other areas with recharged tanks too are facing scarcity. The rabi season is coming to an end and the crop requires water at this crucial stage.

Ravi, Convener of the Rythu Joint Action Committee, flays the government for not discouraging paddy cultivation in the rabi season. “They should have encouraged rabi crops by announcing good prices well before the season. After seeing good rains, the farmers opted for paddy as it gives assured returns in the market,” he says.

Livelihoods hit

With a not-so encouraging kharif and an imminent disaster in rabi, livelihoods in rural areas have been severely hit.

“The government is talking about availability of water in tanks. It will be useful only for farmers who have land and bore wells. What about those who don’t have any land? The government has completely forgotten to take up disaster relief measures,” Ravi argues.

Activists say the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme is not able to address the problem. Against the assured 100 days of jobs that should be offered, people are getting work for just 35-37 days on an average.

“The average earning stands at ₹115-120, hardly sufficient to take care of the needs of people,” says Ravi, who also works for the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture.

Farmers with alternative income avenues don’t find the going smooth, either. Those with cattle and sheep face a severe fodder shortage.

For T Raju, a farmer in Turkapally mandal, toddy-tapping is proving a godsend. “I opted for paddy in two acres that I am doomed to lose. But I paid ₹20,000 for rights on six trees. I earn ₹500 day on an average for six months in a year. It will bail my family out,” he says.

Sugunamma, 60, says not all are as lucky. “My son should have saved the investments he made on the rabi crops. We could have bought a few rice bags from the market with that,” she rues.

Published on April 03, 2017
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