Seeds of Hope
CHENNAI: A late surge in the Southwest monsoon changed the outlook from drought to surplus, filled the Cauvery basin, persuaded farmers in the delta region to go for Samba paddy planting and raised hopes for a good crop this season. This the first time in two years that farmers find better storage level in Mettur dam and can keep their fingers crossed for a bumper Samba harvest. Their fingers are crossed because of the vagaries of the forthcoming Northeast monsoon, since the current storage in the Mettur dam may not be enough to last the season. However, according to all available indications, the Northeast monsoon too will be normal.
In all, Samba is likely to be cultivated in around 4.3 lakh hectares in three Cauvery delta districts. A sizeable number of farmers have opted for ‘direct sowing’ as it requires lesser water than the traditional way of growing nursery and transplanting them.
At present, the storage level at Mettur dam is 90.91 ft as against its full capacity of 120 ft. While the inflow on Sunday was 4,555 cusecs, the outflow was maintained at 21,001 cusecs. The State agriculture department is upbeat and has set an ambitious target of 92 lakh metric tonnes of paddy yield this year – 17 lakh MT more than last year. The target last year was 75 lakh MT.
The department is also educating farmers on various methods to improve yield, such as adopting the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) and efficient water management. SRI is a different process for cultivating rice with less water as compared to the traditional water-intensive method.
To persuade people to switch over to modern farming, the agricultural department last year launched a scheme of appointing ‘farmer friends’, each of whom are tasked with interacting with two specific revenue villages. Those selected as farmer friends are ‘progressive farmers’, who have been successful in applying modern techniques in cultivation.
According to official sources, the scheme was a big success since farmer friends were able to share their experience with fellow agriculturists easily. The scheme will continue and there are around 8,500 farmer friends at present in Tamil Nadu.
While the agriculture department is proactive, grassroots level farmers still have various unresolved issues. According to farmers associations, the primary problem they face is the inability to avail crop loans. Besides, insufficient desilting of waterways and channels result in water released from Mettur dam failing to reach most of the tail-end areas of the delta.
K Balakrishnan, MLA representing Chidambaram Assembly constituency and president of Tamil Nadu farmers Association (CPM), says since many farmers could not repay loans availed during the previous year due to drought, the cooperative societies were denying them fresh loans. Funds allocated for desilting the waterways too were insufficient, he argues.
S Ranganathan, general secretary of the Cauvery Delta Farmers Welfare Association, concurs. He says in many places there were sand dunes along the field channels obstructing the waterways. “As of now, a drought-like situation prevails in many tail-end areas and farmers are pinning their hopes on the Northeast monsoon,” he claims.
Durai Manickam, general secretary, Tamil Nadu Farmers Association, points out that a large section of farmers have not been able to avail of crop loans due to the stiff conditionalities that need to be fulfilled for doing so.
Arupathi Kalyanam, general secretary of the Federation of Farmers Associations of Thanjavur, Tiruvarur and Nagapattinam districts, says poor water management by the authorities affects farmers in a big way.
If grievance day meetings are arranged at the revenue division level, farmers in and around three or four taluks could participate in them and ventilate their problems, he suggests.