Tamil Nadu agricultural department is encouraging farmers to shift from rice to less water-intensive crops such as millets and pulses in arid areas as the state is facing a severe drought.

Addressing the Tamil Nadu Millet Summit organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry, V Dakshinamoorthy, Director of Agriculture, Government of Tamil Nadu, said millet cultivation is an ideal solution as they consume less water and are nutritious.

In 2015-16, of the 130 lakh tonnes of agricultural produce in Tamil Nadu, 85 lakh tonnes were rice, 40 lakh tonnes millets and the rest were pulses, oil seeds and other crop varieties. Despite the challenges the state faces, compared to the national average of over 1,000 kg per hectare of millet production, Tamil Nadu boasts 4,210 kg per hectare.

Dakshinamoorthy said it was possible because of the distribution of quality seeds to farmers, usage of bio-fertilisers, vermi compost and micro-nutrient mixture.

“Last year the state witnessed agricultural distress due to water crisis. So the impetus is now to cultivate more millets and pulses,” he said. .

The government is implementing this through dryland farming project and special package for pulses in all districts in Tamil Nadu.

The state will invest ₹803 crore in dryland farming over the period of four years. Around 1,000 clusters will be covered, each with an area of 2,500 acres. “We will cover 25 lakh acres in 25 districts in the four year period. In 2016-17 we started work in 200 clusters. We will cover another 400 clusters in 2017-18,” he added.

Another project, special package for pulses, was also implemented in areas that were hit by drought. Under this scheme, farmers were given seeds to promote cultivation of pulses and drip, sprinklers and rain gun to ensure economic usage of water. It covers cultivatable area of 60,000 acres.

Dakshinamoorthy said there are plans to implement e-market and collective farming.