By Prof Devi Prasad Juvvadi
The challenges of agriculture in Telangana are different compared with other States. The measures taken after the bifurcation of the State towards agricultural development started giving desired results, but this has landed the sector into different problems. Expansion of irrigated areas has helped increase paddy production by about three times as against seven years ago, creating a marketing crisis and problem of plenty. Obviously, the glut did not match the supply-demand equation anywhere closer.
The continued emerging surplus production warrants changes in government’s thinking and policy changes in governance of the agriculture sector. It is time for focused interventions to explore alternative opportunities to shift towards other crops than paddy to maximise farm income and protect the livelihoods of farmers. This warrants an agriculture transition plan to support the policy initiatives in place.
Agricultural transition plan sets out the changes for agricultural policy for immediate implementation and includes crop planning, processing, value addition, etc, and what these changes will mean for farmers to achieve the goals of policy. It is quite different from agriculture action plan that government prepares every year ahead of the kharif season.
A farmer-centred approach should be at the very core of government thinking for an agriculture transition plan. This should be based on robust research with the participation of farmers impacted by present policies and actions, to ensure that the true needs of our farmers are fully understood. Co-development and co-design with farmers should be the foundational approach to the development of schemes, support structures and delivery systems in the transition plan.
Some of the challenges contributing to Telangana agriculture are the existence of different types of risk such as weather, market and environmental. Thus, among the stochastic factors making future crop profits uncertain are temperature or rainfall level, commodity selling price, input costs, etc, since they affect the yield. When dealing with risk in agriculture management in Telangana, we need to consider three main diversification strategies.
• Crop diversification that consists of sowing different crops other than paddy as per suitability to soils and reducing income variance by supplying different products in markets. This is a simple to implement strategy by any farmer but requires government support in the form of incentives to grow other crops.
• The second is geographic diversification. This includes not growing paddy in the regions with loamy or light soils just because water is available due to the creation of new irrigation sources. In such regions, irrigated dry crops should be encouraged with incentives.
• Finally, cultivar diversification that considers mixing the two previous strategies, thus obtaining both types of advantages. This includes cultivating not just one variety because of high productivity but also varieties that have export potential resulting in better prices despite low production per unit area.
Crop planning may be equal to regulated farming and involves decisions such as crop selection in a particular district with the goal of maximising profits based on resources, soil, and climate advantages. Crop planning in Telangana should cover four main functional areas:
• Production (crop selection, extent of area to be sown, sowing date, resources involved, irrigation, etc)
• Harvest (dates of maturity, consider harvest to prepare soil for next sowing time etc)
• Storage (stocks, sales planning, etc)
• Distribution (transportation mode, routing)
The agriculture transition plan aids policy architecture to make agriculture a remunerative enterprise for the farmers by:
• Capturing the value offered by the changing patterns of food consumption and other end uses of farm produce through demand-driven production.
• Mitigating inherent production risk arising out of changing climate and rapidly depleting natural resources, through climate-resilient farming.
• Designing farmer-centric interventions, with the conviction that one scheme or solution does not serve the purpose of all farmers.
The evolving consumer needs such as quality, health, nutrition, safety, variety and convenience offer a great opportunity to diversify crop production to more remunerative crops like vegetables, fruits, nutri-cereals (millets), pulses. To gain from this, farmers need access to new knowledge in crop management and efficient linkages to input and output markets. Some policy measures could be creating vegetable production zones, encouraging food processing and crop-specific storage and handling systems for minimising post-harvest wastage, providing thrust to value-added exports of produce. If adequately supported by a conducive ecosystem, strong partnerships and enabling policies, it is possible to prepare farmers well and enable them to get the benefit of several export opportunities in agriculture.
Extreme weather episodes have become more frequent adversely impacting production. This requires developing an “atlas of natural resources”, mapping the current status and future scenarios of top-soil and water resources to assess depletion of top-soil, groundwater status etc.
Strengthen crop insurance system for expeditious settlement of farmers’ claims by making use of remote sensing and drone surveillance for loss assessments. Research should focus on the development of indigenous varieties of seeds and breeds that are naturally tolerant to weather variations and also setting up community-based seed banks for multiplying high-quality seeds of open-pollinated varieties of crops to improve seed replacement rates for raising productivity.
Telangana agriculture can become an arena of thriving innovation with farmer and consumer-centric solutions. Most holdings in the State are small and marginal and farmers need protection in their subsistence farming to be nurtured to be globally competitive. Important measures include encouraging farmer producer organisations (FPOs) as an aggregation mechanism to bring the power of scale to small farmers and incubate robust FPOs by developing their self-governance capacity and business management competence.
Processing and Value-addition
Processing adds significant value to agricultural produce. The increased demand for processed food is a potential opportunity for farmers in terms of increased production, greater demand for raw material for value-added products, diversification from grain-based crops to horticulture, production of high-value processable varieties — all of which can add to farmers’ income. As Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao stated some time ago, it is time to create market linkages by setting up processing activities and providing better storage in each constituency to minimise production cost in the production catchments and generate revenues for enhancing income for farmers.
The agriculture transition plan is not easy to implement. Which crop to be grown in which areas and reaching a common consensus on the right approach forward will require to travel a difficult journey together. However, we need to realise that we must change the way we cultivate our crops and use our soils. With appropriate policies and incentives, farmers will be able to collectively deliver and ensure Telangana agriculture leads in establishing credentials in an ever-changing environment.