Filling Tamil Nadu's granary

With the monsoons turning out to be a complete dampener in 2016, food grain production in the state has halved during the year 2016 – 2017, triggering concerns on whether the state’s needs would be met through local procurement.
Filling Tamil Nadu's granary

Chennai

The failure of both the monsoons last year saw a steep fall in food production in the state for the first time in many years. Officials say they have formulated a strategy to ensure that every rice card holder gets prescribed quota.
With the monsoons turning out to be a complete dampener in 2016, food grain production in the state has halved during the year 2016 – 2017, triggering concerns on whether the state’s needs would be met through local procurement. 
Due to the failure of the monsoon, there was a fall in food grain production to 69 lakh metric tonnes. Coming after the agriculture department posed a remarkable foodgrain production of over 130 lakh metric tonnes in 2015 – 2016, the situation looked grim for the farmer, as well as the common man.  Sources attributed the drop of food grain production to a historic 144-year-old drought situation, orchestrated by the failure of both, the south-west and north-east monsoons, Karnataka’s failure to release water from Cauvery river, poor storage levels in all the major reservoirs, and Cyclone Vardah. 
All the above shrunk the cultivable area, apart from causing damage to the standing crops. However, officials maintained that the government was making a systematic effort to increase the food production by numerous, innovative methods. Measures, such as speedy information dissemination of scientifically proven strategies and schemes, coupled with rapid technology adoption by farmers, among others, had in fact, helped the food grain production to cross 100 lakh metric tonnes in 2011-12, 2013-14, 2014-15, and 2015-16, whereas the state’s food grain production stood at around 75.94 lakh metric tonnes in 2010-2011. 
They added that the loss in food grain production would not hamper the ongoing public distribution scheme (PDS) citing the recent proposal to purchase rice from Food Corporation of India(FCI) to manage the deficit.  
HELPING HANDS 
The Agriculture Department has also set an ambitious target of producing 125 lakh metric tonnes for the current year, and has activated its field staff to meet the target, while Revenue officials have tasked their force to carry out crop-damage assessment to help farmers in rain-ravaged agricultural pockets. 
Sources said the Department would take advantage of the more bountiful south-west monsoon this year, which has been estimated to be 32 per cent in excess of the average for the particular season. “A comprehensive plan has been worked out for the agricultural extension workers and other officials to visit every village, which comes under their ambit. 
The move is expected to come as a psychological boost to the farmers who are weighed down by last year’s loss. The staff are to advise farmers on crops to be taken up for cultivation this year, besides facilitating them to avail subsidies and packages extended by the government,” another official said. Earlier this year, the state had also rolled out a collective-farming project on a pilot basis, with an outlay of Rs 100 crore. “Under this initiative, Farmer Producer Groups (FPGs) and Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) are being formed to promote collective farming for credit mobilisation. While each group will be given a corpus fund of Rs 5 lakh, FPOs would get Rs 10 lakh per entity. 
It would also help channelise grants and credit available from NABARD and Small Farmer Agri Business Consortium. It would take a  minimum of 100 farmers to form an FPG while a minimum of 1,000 farmers for an FPO,” the official explained. 
BOOST FOR PRODUCTION 
When contacted Minister for Agriculture R Doraikannu admitted that the dip in production was bad, but added that the government was seized of the issue, and was doing at its best to handle the situation. “Soon after the crops failed last year, we had rolled out separate special assistance packages, amounting to over Rs 100 crore, covering both Kuruvai and Samba cultivation. Similarly, Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami rolled out the Kuruvai cultivation package 2017 earlier in June, to the tune of Rs 56.92 crore and had rolled out Samba cultivation package 2017 last month to the tune of Rs 41.15 crore. We are also advocating the cultivation of pulses instead of paddy. to boost the food grain production.”  He further added, “We have set the target for the present year to cross 100 lakh metric tonne marks, and the Chief Minister is also keen on improving the food grain production situation, like our  late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa.”  As for the rains, a Revenue official said that they had instructed all the districts except Chennai to survey for crop damage and report the same to the government. 
“Once the report is ready, we would forward it to the government and necessary relief measures would be rolled out,” the official added. Referring to last week’s  approval from the Chief Minister, for procurement of 3.85 lakh metric tonnes of rice from FCI, a senior government official said the move would ensure that all the rice cards in the state would receive the quota. The total amount earmarked for the purchase is Rs. 972.50 crore in this regard.

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