Agri crisis: From cultivators to wage labourers

Prudhvi Vegesna

Thiruvallur: Agrarian distress, accentuated by deficit rainfall over the past few years and absence of sustainable irrigation systems, has forced many farmers in the district to abandon farming in search of a more stable wage-based employment.

G.Radhakrishnan of Bhimavaram village in Thiruvallur taluk said, “I am not cultivating Paddy on my 4 acre of land for the past 3 years as there is no water for irrigation due to low rainfall. I don’t have money to afford borewell irrigation as it would cost around Rs 1 lakh. I am working as an agricultural labourer and earn Rs 400 a day.”

He said that many small and marginal farmers from Bhimavaram and neighbouring villages had abandoned farming and took up jobs likes security guards and painters in the nearby urban centres like Sriperambudur, Poonamallee and Sunguvarchatram.

According to data from Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), Tamil Nadu received 62 % deficit rainfall in 2016 and with three of the last four years have fallen under the 15 worst years of rainfall since 1876.

N.Raghu of Narasamangalam village in Thiruvallur taluk said, “ I left farming  and set up a small provisional store as farming is not profitable in the absence of a regular source of water for irrigation.”

Available data shows the presence of large number of marginal and small farmers in the district on whom the impact of an agrarian distress was severely felt. According to the Ninth Agricultural Census (2010-11), small and marginal farmers, with less than 2 hectares of land, accounted for 94.5% of the total operational holdings in Thiruvallur. Further, Tamil Nadu’s Department of Economics and Statistics data show that average size of land holdings in Thiruvallur is 0.59 hectares against the State average of 0.80 hectares.

K.Sivasubramaniyan, Assistant Professor, Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS) and an expert in irrigation and water management said in a phone interview, “ Poor rainfall over the past few years and low productivity levels are the reasons for farmers decreased interest in agriculture.The productivity levels for Paddy in Tamil Nadu is only 3500 to 4000 kgs per hectare against the global average of 11,000 kgs per hectare.”

He advocated the development of sustainable rainwater harvesting structures like lakes and canals for irrigation to tide over the vagaries of monsoon rainfall. IMD data shows that Thiruvallur receives 52% of its rainfall from North East monsoons.

Increased industrialisation and urbanisation had triggered the conversion of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes. Thiruvallur District Statistical Handbook data show between 2006-07 and 2013-14, land put to non-agricultural sources has increased from 98,729 hectares to 1,09,765 hectares and net sown area has decreased from 1,20,169 hectares to 1,08,45 hectares.



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