By Chinmaya Dehury
Bhubaneswar: Even as the Odisha government talks about its commitment to the agriculture sector, it is witnessing a surprising trend in which large tracts of agricultural land have remained uncultivated for the past several years, a state government report says.
The sorry state of affairs in the agriculture sector is forcing farmers to either quit farming or commit suicide due to an unbearable loan burden.
The contribution of agriculture to the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) is falling gradually over the years while the number of small, medium and large scale farmers has dropped by 460,000, the report says.
“Around 722,000 hectare of land has remained uncultivated in the state in 2014-15 while it was 756,000 hectare in 2013-14. 849,000 hectare agricultural lands had remained uncultivated in the year 2012-13,” an agriculture department report says.
So, how has it come to this?
“Climatic conditions are one of the major reasons for the decreasing rate of cultivation activities in the state. Besides, the profit margin in agricultural produce is comparatively low. There are no adequate marketing facilities in the state,” Lalit Mohan Garnaik, Dean, College of Agriculture, Odisha University of Agriculture and Technology (OUAT), told IANS.
“Besides, the high cost of labour is another major problem. Then, youths look down upon pursuing agriculture as a career,” Garnaik added.
While some opposition parties asserted that the farmers were not showing interest in cultivating their land due to the state government’s apathetic attitude, others blamed the cheap rice scheme introduced by central and state governments for ruining agricultural productivity in the state.
“The cheap rice scheme is one of the major reasons for declining paddy and pulses’ cultivation in the state. With cheap rice available at the doorstep, villagers are seen idling and in no mood to go to the field to work. This results in a serious dearth of agricultural labourers,” former BJP MP and Utkal Bharat president Kharavela Swain said.
The Odisha government is providing 25 kg of rice at Re.1-a-kg every month to six million families.
A total of 6.18 million hectares of agricultural land is available for cultivation in the state. The contribution of this sector to the GSDP has also decreased to 12.33 percent in 2014-15 fiscal while agriculture contributes 15.77 percent towards national GDP.
“The contribution of agriculture and animal resources to GSDP is gradually falling in the state. While it was 15.14 percent in 2012-13, it fell to 13.7 percent in 2013-14 and 12.33 percent in 2014-15,” Agriculture Minister Pradip Maharathy told the assembly recently.
The agriculture sector had contributed 21.67 percent in fiscal 1999-2000.
As per an agriculture census conducted during 2005-06 and 2010-11, the number of small, medium and large scale farmers has dropped by 460,000 during the period, showing that the farmers are gradually shying away from their traditional occupation due to several constraints, including lack of irrigation, non-availability of workforce, low market value and inadequate government support.
However, the number of marginal farmers has significantly increased by 771,000 to 3,368,296 from 2,597,164.
As per the census, the number of small farmers fell by 237,000, medium farmers by 211,000 and large farmers by 5,834 between 2005-06 and 2010-11.
The report said the state now has 1,299,170 small, medium and large farmers.
The agriculture minister had also claimed that irrigation was provided to 3.35 million hectares in the kharif season and to 1.65 million hectares in the rabi season in 2013-14.
However, an audit of water resources department for the year ending March 31, 2013, by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has found that the state government has failed to meet the target of providing 35 percent irrigation facilities to the agriculture sector.
It said that of the 6.165 million hectares of cultivable land in 314 blocks, the department could achieve the goal in only 60 blocks till June, 2013.
The audit report revealed that 67 out of the 95 blocks in western Odisha had not received the minimum 35 percent irrigation facilities.
The state government has also admitted that states like Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal have better irrigation facilities than Odisha.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 3,602 people employed in the farming and agriculture sectors committed suicide between 1999 and 2013.
The agriculture minister, however, claimed that none of the suicides was due to farm-related problems or crop losses.
Ironically, the state government has been presenting a separate agriculture budget since 2013-14. This has been pegged at Rs.10,903.62 crore for 2015-16.