For the first time in the history of Indian agriculture, Telangana will dictate the cultivation of crops by telling farmers what to sow in which district in a particular season, keeping in view the farmers’ interests as well as ecological system. The crops suggested for each district will not be the same forever, rather would keep changing to market and weather conditions from season to season.

The proposed regulation, which will be implemented from this kharif season, also says that farmers not following the specified cropping pattern will be denied the benefits of Rythu Bandhu under which farmers get investment support of ₹5,000 per acre every year. Will the proposed regulation of the State government help farmers get better prices by eliminating a glut in the market? What will be the other implications of this new plan?

Plausible benefits

Farmers, generally, decide on the crop based on the availability of seeds and other technology, irrigation, market situation, etc. Of late, farmers have been influenced to cultivate and boost the production of the same crop on the premise of pre-existing demand and prices. But this leads to increased supply of a crop outpacing the demand, which not only leads to sudden drop in market prices but even forces farmers to dump the harvested produce on roads and in rivers. To end the recurring problem of plenty, the proposed regulated cropping plan is definitely a promising recipe.

Given the fast degrading ecological situation, depleting groundwater levels and declining soil fertility, a market-based agricultural diversification, which foresees a shift away from monoculture towards a variety of crops, will definitely increase farm incomes and profits. Besides, optimising crop production under heterogeneous agro-ecological conditions in rainfed areas and reducing vulnerability to market and climate variability, crop diversity is also associated with risk-coping strategies, facilitating adaptation to climate change and poverty reduction. Besides, it will ensure the availability of rural employment round the year, result in crop intensification, bring back the soil's nutrient profile and ensure environmental sustainability.

Achieving self-sufficiency

Dispensing with mono-cropping offers a greater scope to focus on boosting the production of pulses and oilseeds in which the country is far from being secure. The NITI Aayog, in a 2017 report, ‘Doubling Farmers’ Income: Rationale, Strategy, Prospects and Action Plan’, reiterated that diversification towards such high-value crops (HYVs) has the potential to increase farmers’ income.

India is the world’s largest producer of pulses accounting for about 35 per cent of the global area and 27 per cent of the global production, and fifth largest oilseed producer. However, it is also the world’s largest importer of pulses and vegetable oils. According to a report of the Commerce and Industry Ministry, about ₹8,035-crore worth of pulses and ₹69,023-crore worth of vegetable oils were imported during 2018-19.

Although the Central and State governments have been taking efforts to boost the production of pulses and oilseeds through various programmes such as the Accelerated Pulses Production Programme, the National Food Security Mission (NFSM), and the National Mission on Oilseeds and Oilpalm, there has been no dramatic increase in area, production or yield. This is where Telangana’s bold move holds value for other States. If a similar initiative is taken in other parts of the country, lakhs of hectares dedicated to the paddy-wheat crop cycle can be shifted to the production of oilseeds and pulses. This would increase the country's self-sufficiency in these crops thereby saving huge amounts in import costs.

Promotes water management

Rising temperature, changing monsoon patterns, and more frequent extreme climatic events continue to worsen the water crisis posing a threat to the country's food security. As the water crisis becomes acute and bears down on the country’s agrarian economy, it is desirable from the water utilisation point of view to break the monoculture pattern of cultivation by crop diversification.

Given that water-guzzling crops such as paddy and sugarcane use up over half of the country’s total irrigation resources, incentivising cultivation of water-efficient crops under regulated agriculture thus becomes imperative. Also, the need to prioritise with less water consuming crops becomes important especially at a time when the tail-end farmers of almost all canal command areas continue to be deprived of water for irrigation due to the unrelenting practice of cultivating water-intensive crops by the head-reach farmers.

This necessitates diversifying crop production replacing water-guzzling crops with climate resilient and water-efficient crops — for instance, millets or sorghum — which, according to a study, would lower the demand for irrigation water by about 3 to 21 per cent and reduce energy use by 2 to 12 per cent. Such a systematised crop planning, would not only result in the creation of additional area under irrigation, but would also provide a promising remedy to the persistent problem of inequitable access to water to the tail-end farmers.

At a time when rising cost of cultivation, farm suicides, farm indebtedness and fast depleting groundwater table continue to haunt the country's farm sector, Telangana's bold move to dictate cultivation of crops is definitely a giant step worth emulating for other States. When regulated agriculture cultivation promises to provide better price for their produce by eliminating crop failure and glut, farmers will no longer be driven to cultivate risk-prone paddy and wheat, which usually command a high minimum support price. Consequently, neither will there be any excess production of wheat and paddy, nor will there be any excess piling and rotting of the procured foodgrains in FCI warehouses.

Since regulated crop cultivation emphasises on producing only those grains that are in demand and have the potential for export, farmers stand to get a better price and income from farming and there would be no more excessive supply of the same crop which eventually results in fall in remunerative price.

Unlike the large scale wheat-rice system, wherein small farmers are denied profits as they do not enjoy economies of scale, promotion of high-value crops under regulated agriculture cultivation promises them a reasonable price from their produce. Under the proposed market-driven cultivation, unlike the present situation, traders would be drawn towards farmers producing market based export-potential crops. A win-win for both the government and the farmers, this sure is a model worth for other States to emulate.

Narayanamoorthy is former Member (Official), CACP New Delhi, and Alli is Senior Assistant Professor in Economics, Department of Social Sciences, Vellore Institute of Technology. The views are personal.