By Mounika Gali:
Chekuri Suryanarayana Raju, a dejected farmer from Anathavaram village, has decided not to grow paddy this kharif season. He owns six acres of land in Anathavaram of Mummidivaram mandal in the East Godavari district. He had been growing paddy for the past 20 years. Taking a break from paddy cultivation for one season was not an easy decision for Suryanarayana Raju. But, he is left with no choice. Rising input costs and the low, unviable Minimum Support Price (MSP) have driven him to take this decision.
The plight of Raju is only a tip of the iceberg. His situation mirrors the agony of thousands of farmers in East and West Godavari districts (Godavari delta), who are finding it tough to continue with paddy cultivation due to its unviability. Ironically enough, these two districts belong to Andhra Pradesh, which is popularly known as the ‘rice bowl of India.’
The ‘crop holiday’ phenomenon is likely to repeat again in the Godavari delta after 2011. Farmers in East Godavari district, which is known as the ‘rice bowl of Andhra Pradesh’, announced a ‘crop holiday’ for the first time in 2011 and 1,05,000 acres of land was left unsown. Now, after five years, paddy growers in East Godavari district belonging to Anathavaram of Mummidivaram mandal, Thurpulanka, Godi and Relligadda of Allavaram mandal, have decided to leave their lands unsown, this kharif season. Peasant leaders expect the phenomenon to spread to other parts of the Godavari delta soon. Declaring a crop holiday has emerged as a novel form of protest by farmers against negative incomes in the recent past.
The main reasons stated by Godavari farmers for announcing a crop holiday for this kharif season are economic unviability and late release of canal water. Unviability stems from factors such as rising labour costs and low MSP. Labour costs witnessed an upswing post-MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) implementation. High labour costs lead to an increase in overall cost of production. To address unviability in paddy cultivation, farmers are urging the Government to implement the Swaminathan-recommended MSP, which is a price that is 50% over and above the cost of production. Godavari farmers complain that the Government should have released water from canals by May 15 to ensure the raising of seedbeds (for kharif crop), which did not happen. A delay in releasing water leads to late transplantation, which further results in a late harvest.
Around 60,000 acres of land in the Godavari delta is expected to remain uncultivated this kharif season. This is likely to impact at least 50,000 farm workers in the region.
Of late, farming in India has become a less attractive option and the younger generation is turning away from agriculture. The crop holiday phenomenon reflects the impending doom looming large over the lush green paddy fields in our country. If this trend is any sign, ensuring food security in our country will only be a far-fetched dream.