Tamil Nadu Minister for Agriculture and Farmers' Welfare MRK Panneerselvam, who has so far presented two exclusive budgets for agriculture, wants farmers to prosper. He believes that providing them better marketing opportunities by which they get a profitable price for their produce, and establishing facilities for value addition in all possible ways are among their key objectives.
The separate annual budget for agriculture has helped farmers get a feeling that the government is serious about their issues, he says in an exclusive chat with the The New Indian Express.
What are initiatives that you deem as the top five achievements of your department during the past one year?
Exclusive budget for agriculture to meet the long-felt demand of farmers, Farmer Producer Organisations, agricultural experts and other stakeholders is the first achievement. Of the 117 announcements made last year, government orders (GOs) have been issued for 111 for the timely reach of schemes to the farmers.
Second, the historical coverage of 4.9 lakh acres in Kuruvai paddy in 2021 became possible due to the Kuruvai special package of Rs 61 crore to provide quality agricultural inputs to farmers and timely completion of desilting works of all channels. Third, the efforts to increase the foodgrain production ensured increased coverage of 22.19 lakh hectares under paddy (1.925 lakh hectares higher than 2020-21) and 40.12 lakh hectares under total food grains (2.055 lakh hectares higher than 2020-21) during 2021-22.
Hence, foodgrain production in 2021-22 has been estimated to reach 118 lakh metric tonnes, as per the third advance estimate, which is the highest in the last six years. Fourth, the provision of production incentive and special incentive for sugarcane helped 91,120 cane growers realise Rs.2,900 per metric tonne for which Rs.150.89 crore was sanctioned.
The area under sugarcane has increased to 1,47,500 hectares during 2021-22 than the previous year. The fifth is the record collection of market cess (Rs.130 crore) and all-time high procurement of copra (2,021 metric tonnes) in regulated markets.
What is the progress made in fulfilling the promise of bringing in an additional area of 11.75 lakh hectares under net area sown so as to increase the present cropped area from 60 to 75 per cent?
The net area sown is gradually declining over years. Around 60.25 lakh hectares during the 1960s have now come down to 47.38 lakh hectares in 2019-20, due to continued urbanisation and industrialisation. On the other hand, the area under fallow land was around 15.77 lakh hectares during the 1960s has increased to 28 lakh hectares in 2019-20. So, the long-term vision is to bring 11.75 lakh hectares under net area cultivated in the next 10 years.
The Kalaignar All Villages Integrated Agricultural Development Scheme is being implemented to convert fall lands and cultivable lands. I am sure we will be able to increase the net area sown significantly within five years.
Provision of one lakh electric connections to farm pump sets, conversion of 10,167 hectares of fallow lands into cultivation and promotion of micro-irrigation as the leading State in the country. Because of the area cultivated in the summer season starting from January 2022 till date has crossed 9.14 lakh hectares 2021-22 when compared to 7.41 lakh hectares during 2020-21 in the same period.
What are the achievements made under the flagship programme - Kalaignar All Villages Integrated Agriculture Development Scheme to cover 2,500 villages?
Initially, we proposed 2,500 villages. Subsequently, we discussed with Rural Development (RD) officials and reduced it to 1,997 villages to synchronise with those villages selected under the Anaithu Grama Anna Marumalarchi Scheme to be implemented simultaneously for effective convergence. Various State schemes and centrally sponsored schemes have been converged for this scheme for successful implementation.
So far, 1,030 fallow land clusters have been identified covering 20,235 acres. The hydro-geological survey has been completed for the erection of 874 borewells. Registration of fallow land clusters and preparation of DPR is in progress.
Beneficiaries have been identified for the formation of 500 farm ponds at Rs1 lakh per pond. Digging of these ponds will commence shortly. It is expected that 8,66,910 farmers will be benefitted from 1,997 fallow land clusters.
Please share the progress made in the organic farming development scheme
A: In view of the deterioration of soil health due to indiscriminate use of chemical fertiliser and pesticides, this government has given more focus to the following activities: Provision of an incentive of Rs 3,000 to 5,000 per ha per year has been extended for an area of 57,700 hectares to 96,325 farmers who adopt organic methods of cultivation; intensification of the research on organic farming through Nammalvar Organic Research Station at TNAU, Coimbatore, enlisting of farmers who practise organic farming at the block level, for getting organic certification, etc.
To date, 1,368 individual farmers and 52 farmers groups have been enlisted and a total, of 1,420 SCOPE certificates have been uploaded to the TNOCD website. Because of the above efforts, the area under Organic Certification has reached 1,15,597 acres during 2021-22 as against 93,334 acres during 2020-21.
What are all the activities of the Nammazhvar Research Centre established to conduct research on organic farming?
This research centre was inaugurated by Chief Minister MK Stalin on April 28. Research activities are in progress.
Under the research component, all the field trials such as evaluation of varieties suitable for organic farming, development of the organic package of practices for major crops, and evaluation of organic inputs for crop production and protection are taking place.
Field trial on the evaluation of green gram varieties has already taken up while minor millet trials have been initiated. The natural farming field trial on a sorghum-based cropping system is in progress. All the KVKs have been directed to establish an Integrated Organic Farming System model.
You said 76 lakh palmyra seeds will be distributed in 30 districts. What is the progress made in this scheme? Also, about Palmyra Development Mission?
The Assembly Speaker has donated one lakh Palmyra seed nuts. Besides, 17.465 lakh Palmyra seed nuts have been distributed to 11,791 farmers in 867 village panchayats at 100 per cent subsidy. One lakh Palmyra seedlings have been distributed by the Horticulture department. Rs 50 lakh has been sanctioned for taking up the research on Palmyra and value-added products.
In the current year's announcements, you said an Onion Cultivation Mission will be launched to increase the cultivation of onions across the State. What is the progress made on this?
Onion is cultivated in Tamil Nadu in an area of 54,000 ha mostly in the districts of Perambalur, Namakkal, Tiruchy, Thoothukudi and Dindigul with an average production of 6.12 lakh metric tonnes. Every year, the price of onion goes up from October to December due to a decline in production.
To bridge this gap, the horticulture department will provide assistance to increase the area under onion to 27,170 acres at an outlay of Rs.21.74 crore during 2022-23 and assistance of Rs.8,000 per acre will be given for providing seeds and inputs.
Rs 18.26 crore will be provided for the establishment of low-cost onion storage structures in the farmer's field, to store the harvested onions for 3-4 months and market them when the demand arises. Hence, the storage capacity of onions in our State will increase from the present level of 1.35 lakh MT to 2.39 lakh MT.
Kindly throw light on the Agriculture Museum to be set up in Chennai
The museum will be established at Humayun Mahal at Chepauk. An expert committee has been constituted for the establishment of this agricultural museum. Various traditional tools, machinery, rare specimen of crops, traditional varieties, photos of native breeds of livestock etc are being collected at the district level. Once the renovation of Humayun Mahal is over, the works on the museum will commence.
You have promised to introduce the Tamil medium of instruction in agricultural and horticultural education
Admission for Tamil medium students has been completed for the academic year 2021-22, for 50 students for B.Sc (Hons) - Agriculture, and 50 students for B.Sc (Hons) – Horticulture. For these courses, 12 books have been translated into Tamil. Translation of six more books for horticulture is in progress. Faculties have been identified for developing course syllabi and books. Lab manuals and study materials have already been prepared.