"Those who cultivate a paddy variety other than what the government has instructed will not get the Rythu Bandhu assistance. The government will recognise which variety of paddy is having high demand in the market, so that your crop will be sold like hotcakes and gives you a profit."
This was the pitch made by Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) to farmers in the state, as he announced a policy on 'regulated cropping pattern'. The CM said that cultivable land will increase to 1.33 lakh acres from existing 1.23 lakh acres in this Kharif season considering the average 900 mm rainfall and irrigation facilities in the state.
He also announced a slew of cropping patterns along the lines of monoculture, that is, cultivating single crops in an area. According to experts and activists in the field of agriculture, switching from en mass to monocropping is 'hazardous' and can result in a crisis.
The CM, for example, proposed that cotton crops can be grown across the state in as many as 70 lakh acres, reasoning that the long staple variety of cotton in Telangana and in Vidarbha of Maharashtra has a huge demand in the international market. He also said that the state should cultivate paddy in 40 lakh acres and red grams in 15 lakh acres instead of maize. However, the CM said that vegetables in 2 lakh acres of land can be cultivated giving some exceptions to horticulture crops in this rainy season.
Dr GV Ramanjaneyulu, agricultural scientist and Director of Center for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA), said that both cotton and paddy are environmentally hazardous and their sustainability is a serious problem.
"There have been major crop failures in cotton and paddy. Farmer suicides and high costs are the results of these two crops. It is important to regulate these crops, without increasing the amount being sown," he said.
Foreseeing an unimaginable impact on the environment due to cotton and paddy cultivation, he said, "Having such massive cultivation of the two crops will impact the water resources (both the crops require more water). We will be using more power and fertilisers, which will show a severe impact on the environment."
The free power offered by the Telangana government to the farm sector has already led to a sharp decline in groundwater levels as more farmers opt for deeper borewells to irrigate their fields. Experts have also pointed out that this leads to a decline in soil health as well.
When asked about the government's claims of good rainfall and land qualities, Dr Ramanjaneyulu said, "There are a number of areas in the state that are not suitable for long staple cotton. Lands in the state are shallow (low-depth) and that is why we have witnessed crop failures."
According to Dr Ramanjaneyulu, 70% of farmer suicides in the state in the last 24 years are cotton farmers. Considering these factors, the promotion of cotton would be a 'hazardous step', he said.
While talking about the fine rice varieties of paddy, he said that farmers are not taking this up as they have a long duration, low yield and low disease resistance. He said that it makes sense if the government insists on paddy varieties that short duration, low water consumption and are disease-resistant.
Ramanjaneyulu said that exporting rice is nothing but exporting water as paddy consumes a huge amount of water. "With as much as water for one acre of paddy, we can instead go for 10 acres of other crops like some vegetables and oil," he said.
Insisting on shifting away from water-intensive crops like cotton and paddy, he said that opting for cotton will cause more delay, as it takes about six to eight months to mature. So, the next set of crops cannot be cultivated in that land.
Lack of environmental assessment
Ramanjaneyulu noted that the regulatory farming policy of Telangana is lacking environmental assessment about how the state will source water and power and what are their impacts on the environment.
"The CM said that at least 2 lakh acres of vegetables can be cultivated, but the state is importing around 40% to 50% of vegetables from other states," Ramanjaneyulu said, adding, "There is significant scope for increasing cultivation of vegetables. Instead of confining to only 2 lakh acres, it can be expanded to 10 lakh acres of land."
In his opinion, the state government is looking towards crops that will have less risk on it.
Kondal Reddy from the Rythu Swarajya Vedika (RSV) said that the decision of the government will certainly end up helping the seed companies.
"Switching to cotton is not good even from the food security point of view. The stray cattle, too, will not even get fodder from this. Going ahead with mono-cropping while excluding other crops, is not fair and viable," said Kondal Reddy, pointing out that farmers of Vidarbha and Telangana were the victims of genetically modified BT cotton crops.