On October 23, over 4,000 farmers laid siege to National Highway 44 in Telangana's Kamareddy district. The farmers protested for hours, with one demand - an assurance of Minimum Support Price (MSP) for maize, which they had cultivated. Though Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao agreed to their demands, initially, the government had refused to buy maize because of a ‘crop regulating system’ that has been implemented in the state.
Already, the state government has said that the MSP to maize will not be extended again next season. A statement from the Chief Minister's Office said, "Since corn is not getting any good price, farmers should decide on whether to cultivate maize or not. If farmers decide to cultivate maize, it is at their risk."
The goal of the crop regulating system, which was launched in May, is to make the agriculture sector profitable in Telangana. The government undertakes scientific studies on the weather and environment conditions in the state and comes up with a cropping pattern. It then dictates what crop should be grown in a certain area. Paddy and cotton were the crops chosen by the state government for the kharif season.
Farmers who adhere to the directions can sell their crops to the government itself, at an assured MSP. Those who don't can sell in the open market and are also not eligible for government schemes and subsidies for their crops.
While the goal is an ambitious one, with its implementation underway in the state, teething troubles seem to have come up. Some farmers are not too keen on the prospect because of the crops that the state government is asking them to grow.
Anvesh Reddy, Chairman, Telangana Kisan Congress says that three major crops being grown in Telangana have been affected due to the new system — maize, paddy and cotton.
"With paddy, the government has asked farmers to grow the thin variety. Generally for this, the investment is more and the returns are less. With maize, we saw what happened with the farmers protest earlier," he said.
Additionally, activists had earlier pointed out that the thin variety of paddy grown in Telangana is different to what the Union government considers as thin variety, and also highlighted complaints by farmers about lower yields, delayed harvests, pest problems and high maintenance as it is a water-intensive crop.
"Farmers always take weather, soil conditions and water availability into account before deciding on their crop, but the government is taking away our choice. There are some areas where only maize will grow. Other crops will not grow or they will be of poor quality," he adds.
Thirdly, cotton, Anvesh Reddy says, was completely destroyed with the rains that lashed the state recently with government estimates stating that at six lakh acres of cotton were damaged due to the showers.
"In some areas, crops are ready for harvest earlier and in some areas, they come later. So the government should be involved in ensuring an MSP, but not dictating what crops we should grow and to whom we should sell," Anvesh Reddy said.
Dr GV Ramanjaneyulu, agricultural scientist and Director of Center for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA), says that there are two main factors at play — ecological and economical.
"Any production system should be based on the ecological and economical opportunities. What the Telangana government has tried to do, is to have a cropping pattern which can help farmers access better prices," he said.
"Unfortunately, they finally came up with a plan that paddy and cotton will be promoted. The assumption was that since both are procured by the Union government, there would be no problem in the market," he added, suggesting that the ecological aspect was overlooked.
In Telangana, the major risk for farmers is with paddy and cotton and they have had a troubled history with the two crops as they are both difficult to maintain and require special attention.
"Around 25 to 26 lakh acres of paddy is sufficient for Telangana for local consumption and some export for one year. This Kharif season alone, we had 56 lakh acres of paddy under cultivation. That figure is expected to be around 60 lakh in Rabi season," Ramanjaneyulu said.
With cotton too, there is a similar situation as the area under cultivation is now 58 lakh acres, compared to the 18 lakh acres required for the state, he said, adding, "The stock of cotton from the last two years is still in warehouses. It has not been sold because of international market fluctuations and other factors. So what happens when the government procures more stock now?"
Activist groups including the Rythu Swarajya Vedika (RSV) have also pointed out that prices of green gram and red gram have gone down significantly in the open market, but the government has not stepped in to buy those, as they were not covered under the system.
"The government can act as an institution and it can create 'drivers and brakes' (incentives and regulations) to ensure better cropping patterns. It should not get into the business of buying and deciding what to do with it. It can incentivise farmers to reduce water use, input use and shift to a better cropping pattern, but you can't dictate what farmers and markets can do," Ramanjaneyulu said.
"Regulation will not work unless it is implemented by farmers. but changes in cropping patterns are desirable because the current patterns are really bad and not based on the natural resources available," he added.
Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao too, seems to understand this. In a statement earlier, he had said, “Any new policy or system will not become a habit in one day or with one attempt. It is due to regular processes that the new method becomes a regular practice. It should be put in farmers' mind repeatedly that they would be more beneficial through the new system and there should be awareness among them.”