Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao is keen on success of regulated cultivation of the crops in Telangana. This is the first time a State government came out with a policy for crop planning on a massive scale. Under this, the government would guide farmers on what crops should be cultivated in which area and to what extent.
The State government would extend Rythu Bandhu benefits and ensure MSP only to farmers who follow the directions of the State government. If properly implemented it has the potential of reducing mismatch between supply and demand and also assuring farmers good returns.
However, great challenge is accurately forecasting the demand and supply conditions and likely prices at the time of harvest of major crops like paddy, cotton and pigeonpea. As it is more information intensive, a minor mistake in forecasting may cost huge amount to State government in terms of subsidies and farmers in terms of incomes.
Officials from the State’s Agriculture Department are started collecting data on existing cropping pattern, suitability of soils to different recommended crops, plantation machines, harvesters, tractors and other agriculture related tools on a district and village level. The State government is also creating awareness among farmers about regulatory farming methods in over 2,000 clusters as part of this new policy change.
Now monsoon started across India, this is the time for farmers to take big decisions on what crops to be grown, what seed variety to be purchased, what type of fertilisers needed etc. For landless labourer, it is high-time for taking critical decisions like whether lease-in land for cultivation or not. Further, given the employment and income opportunities are reduced in industrial sector during this post-Covid situation, farmers and agricultural workers are keen to focus on agricultural sector for their livelihoods.
Crop planning by State require high-tech plot wise and farmer wise information. For this, the State Agriculture Department is collaborating with Telangana State Remote Sensing Applications Centre (TRAC). The centre will remotely monitor cropping patterns across the State and identify them in different colours. TRAC will further enable the authorities to estimate yield using crop cutting experiment data. Not only this, but it will also suggest types of fertilisers and their quantity be used for any crop using soil health card data by estimating the nature of the soil. The government is in the process of linking 1.6 crore acres of cultivable land belonging to more than 56 lakh farmers to TRAC.
It is also high time to integrate all the ongoing schemes to converge to meet the targets set under regulated farming. Although both Central and State government schemes are concurrently working for farmer’s welfare, the implementation of the schemes is through State Department of Agriculture. There are more than 20 government schemes implemented by the State Department of Agriculture for the benefit of farmers, but some of them are not active as revealed from our field surveys.
There is a need for coordinating all these schemes at mandal agricultural officer level under single umbrella and chalk out action plans at mandal. Although agriculture is State subject, the Central government also funding Centrally-sponsored programmes like the Soil Health Card (SHC) scheme, National Food Security Mission (NFSM), Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) and Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY). All these schemes are also implemented by State agricultural department, in addition to the State government schemes like Rythu Bima and Rythu Bandhu.
Mandal agricultural officers are key link for farmers to get detailed information about different schemes modalities, eligibility criteria, procedure for application and other information at the beginning of the crop season to reap the benefits of ongoing programmes.
Historically, it is the responsibility of State agriculture departments to provide all scheme-related information to farmers. However, over the years, they have been burdened with distribution of subsidies and inputs, with little time left to devote for core extension activities like advising farmers on utility of the schemes, scheme modalities, technicalities, implementation strategies and procedures. As a result, awareness of schemes like Soil Health Card (SHC) is low in most cases. Even farmers, who are aware of it, are not adopting the recommendations based on these advisories. A concentrated effort by the officers is required to motivate farmers to apply the recommended dose of fertilisers for better yields.
All these efforts of regulated farming, mandal and cluster level agricultural officers are key points of implementation. Thus it is vital that all vacancies of mandals Agricultural Officer at mandal level and mandal Agricultural Extension Officers at cluster level needs to be filled up. All the Agricultural Officers to be provided with GPS-enabled tablets and travel expenses to move freely, guide farmers and collect necessary geo-tagged information.
In recent years, more funds are allocated to direct money transfer schemes like PM-KISAN or Rythu Bandhu with little money left for working expenses to be utilised by the local officers. There is an immediate need to increase budget allocation for working expenses for agricultural extension.
Under regulated farming, more information is required to be collected on various aspects of farming for example at village level on disease and pest outbreaks and latest farm implements; at State level on export demand and food safety standards. Hence, more budgetary allocations are needed to connect remote areas to headquarters at State level.
As agricultural departments alone cannot meet the complex information needs of farmers, there is a need for promoting alternative channels of information dissemination. Some channels like input dealers, private companies (ITC e-choupals), farmer producer companies (Sahaja Aaharam) and cooperative societies (Mulkanoor) are already active in knowledge dissemination to farmers on input and output markets. Use of multiple information channels (including private) needs to be incorporated into the agricultural extension strategy. To enhance last-mile connection, the government may use progressive farmers as kisan mitras (farmer’ friend) with a monthly honorarium, which is showing good results in some areas.
Given that regulated farming is a new concept, building trust among all stakeholders through coordinated information flow is important for successful implementation.
(Author is the Principal Scientist of ICAR-Centre Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture, Hyderabad)
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