Tamil Nadu Budget 2017: Water conservation is the way forward for farmers

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CHENNAI: Tamil Nadu farmers, for long, have learnt to live with the uncertainties posed by interstate water disputes. They struggle without water if monsoon gets delayed or the storage in water bodies dwindles.

From Cauvery to Palar and Bhavani to Mullaperiyar, every inter-state river is caught in legal battles in the apex court. This, coupled with a severe drought across the state in 2016 leading to crops drying up, has left a majority of farmers in debt. The food grain production in the state is expected to drop by at least 30% this year, compared to 130 million tonnes last year.

After complete failure of the South-West and North-East monsoons last year, most districts reported fall in area under cultivation of both agriculture and horticulture crops.

Experts say standard measures like improving water efficiency and staying away from water intensive crops, especially during rabisummer season should be looked into. Drip irrigation, rain water harvesting and creation of water bodies and desilting existing ones need to be taken up on a war footing. Farmers have a collective role in pond conservation, especially deepening ponds with the provision to cover the top to reduce loss due to evaporation.

Farmers stress on the need for institutions to come up with more drought-resistant high-yielding varieties.At least 50 new varieties of seeds are released across crops by private companies and educational institutions every year.

But farmers say 70% of them fail on the field. “Institutions and companies, when marketing new varieties or hybrid seeds, promise high yield which they claim they got during the three-year trials,” said president of Tamil Nadu Farmers’ Association, A Kandasamy. “But often, after the first year, the yield starts dropping, or they become susceptible to weather changes and pests,” he said.

Farmers quote the example of the CO1variety of tomato, released around four decades ago, which initially gave high yields but failed later. “The CO1, which they said gives 25 tonnes per hectare, did give that much initially, but was found to be susceptible to heavy rains. The yield also dropped after four years,” said Kandasamy .

“All new varieties and hybrids force us to buy new seeds every time, spending Rs 10,000 per hectare. If we use the seeds from our crop, yield falls sharply,” said an Avinashi-based organic farmer, G Ramasamy .

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