By B Yerram Raju
Climate, soil, and water are key to sustainable agricultural growth along with extension support and appropriate technology. The growth rate of agriculture is broadly defined through crop culture, animal husbandry, forestry and logging, and fishing and aqua culture. Sustainability of the agriculture sector is the key factor in GSDP growth.
In Telangana, the farmer-Chief Minister lost no time in sizing up the requirements of the farm sector and putting in place the right instruments and insurance at the right time. No wonder that from the negative 9.7% farm growth when the State was carved out in 2014-15, Telangana recorded 20.9% farm growth in 2020-21, as revealed by the RBI’s Handbook of Statistics on Indian Economy.
Professor Jayashankar Telangana State Agricultural University rendered the policy support and helped in augmenting extension support. The first bout of recruitment after the State formation was that of agricultural extension officers.
The government of India may have set the goal of doubling farmers’ income, but it was made a near-reality through improvement in farming practices in Telangana. Research has been focusing on optimising resource usage, improving per acre productivity and increasing profitability through barefoot and mobile technology extension support.
The university has established a Centre of Innovation and Agri-entrepreneurship. Partnering with the Confederation of Indian Industry, Hyderabad Chapter, it has set up a taskforce for Digitisation of Agricultural Research and Technology (DART) with the two principal objectives of doubling farmers’ income within the next five years and enhancing the reach of technology with effective coordination from input suppliers (commercial organisations); academic and research institutions and State and Union governments.
While the national gross value added (GVA) in agriculture was just 3%, the State had a corresponding GVA at 20.9% in 2020-21. Crop production share in agriculture GVA is 42.9% whereas that of animal husbandry’s 50.2%. The years 2017-18 and 2018-19 saw very poor GVA at 9% and 4.7% respectively. These wavering growth rates lead us to the question of sustainability and appropriate technology issues coupled with extension. Covid-19 imposed lockdowns but the impact on production during the period was minimal. However, farmers had to face challenges in processing and marketing.
Telangana is a tropical State climate-wise, located in a semi-arid region that is predominantly hot and dry. All the 33 districts are divided into three agro-climatic zones – Northern Telangana, Central Telangana and Southern Telangana. Considering the intensity of dry spells, the State realised that the larger the green space, the greater would be the scope for inviting rains. Haritha Haram made a tremendous difference. 2019-21 and beyond saw significant improvement in rainfall.
Linking the 40,000 tanks under Mission Kakatiya and lift irrigation schemes, such as the world renowned Kaleshwaram, and Palamuru-Rangareddy, brought under irrigation around 31 lakh acres and improved the groundwater recharge throughout the State. Uninterrupted supply of free power round the year to farmers and micro-irrigation support to 18.6 lakh acres between 2014 and 2020, coupled with timely and efficient use of fertilizers, significantly contributed to the GVA crop culture.
Liberal and timely cash transfers to farmers at Rs 4,000 per acre per season during 2018 was increased to Rs 5,000 from 2019 through Rythu Bandhu. 75.4% of the agricultural budget and 7.7% of the total budget of 2020-21 was earmarked for the scheme and it also saw the ease of access and online transfers to farmers’ bank accounts with the tag that it shall not be used for clearing existing institutional loans. 90% of the beneficiaries are small and marginal farmers. Tenant farmers are, however, excluded. The scheme has prevented suicides; helped farmers in meeting the outlays of family budgets for education of children and health, according to a study by the University of California.
It would be easy to paint an unduly idyllic picture of traditional farming at harmony with nature (Gerald J Gill,1995) where very few purchased inputs are required; most production is for subsistence, and market linkages are correspondingly weak. As transformation from traditional to modern agriculture takes place, proprietorial rights for the user tend to dominate. This will not in itself lead to either higher production or higher productivity. Modern agriculture is characterised by application of higher-level inputs, less dependence on off-farm inputs locally available.
Telangana is the first State to realise the need for incentivising farmers and insuring them against the calamities that come their way. Rythu Bima (Farmer Insurance) was introduced in 2018 to mitigate the risks arising from the sudden loss of life of farmer while on the field. The scheme provides financial relief to the calamity-affected family to the extent of Rs 5 lakh within ten days of such occurrence. The entire premium is paid to the insurance company by the government.
Crop Darpan is a mobile application in the farmer’s palm that helps him locate any pest or disease to the crop, snap it and send it to the agricultural scientist for a resolution. Likewise, Kuber from Kalgudi helps farmers and stakeholders. Implementation of artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies are also under way.
Parallelly, to add value to the crop at the doorstep of farmer, enough attention is being paid for scientific storage, timely marketing through farmers’ self-help groups, food processing organisations integrated with retail markets, and food procurement policies.
Crop zoning has been advised but is yet to be accepted. Crop diversification is also being brought in to prevent the type of disasters that happened in mono-cropping like rice-rice-rice or rice-wheat-rice, or sugarcane (water-thirsty crops that also lead to soil degeneration) and the need for commercial outlook on the part of farmers to look to other crops such as oilseeds and maize. The policy for such interventions is already in place and the State is poised for sustainable growth for farm productivity and farmers’ income.