V. Poornachandra Rao calls out to the worker manoeuvring a wheel tractor scraper that careens around a stretch of his field flinging showers of thick slush to level the farm ground.

A racy film song playing in the background has apparently absorbed the entire focus of the worker. “The music motivates them to work with vigour,” smiles Poornachandra Rao, who then quickly unloads paddy seedlings he has carted in from Jaggaiahpet.

The farmer, with the assistance of his nephew Sagar, a diploma-holder in electronics engineering, places the seedlings on one side of the road and turns to his fields. “There is severe dearth of irrigation sources. With whatever little water we got from the Nagarujana Sagar canal via Bandipalem, I cultivated paddy in my two acres of land. For last three years, we haven’t been able to cultivate crops,” he rues.

“Pest attack is yet another serious menace that adds to our financial woes,” chips in Sagar.

Most farmers of Peddavaram village in Nandigama mandal in Krishna district have similar tales to narrate.

Rao is expecting 25-30 bags of paddy per acre which would sell for anything between Rs.12,000 and Rs.15,000 per tonne. “The price has been fluctuating and so it is difficult to predict the exact returns on the crop,” he says.

Rao admits he is lucky because he owns the land. “Tenant farmers get below 10 bags of the crop output per acre after all the hard work,” he says.

The farmers in this region received irrigation water from Sagar canals only till 1978. Barring the months of January and February, they are deprived of irrigation facility which makes cultivation of regular crops impossible.

“Since they are forced to rely on monsoon for irrigating crops, most of them have switched to cotton and mirchi cultivation,” says M. Rambabu, Rythu Coolie Sangham’s district executive committee member.

With the encouragement of ITC, an increasing number of farmers in the region are embracing subabul farming. “The tilt is understandable because the company is paying Rs.4,400 per tonne as against the government rate of Rs.3,900 per tonne,” says Mr. Rambabu.

The farmers have increased the extent and opted for subabul cultivation in one lakh acres in the region, he informs.