The Agriculture Minister, Mullakkara Ratnakaran, said on Friday that the Kerala Cabinet was considering declaration of the Southern districts of the State as drought hit.

The Minister said in his address to the conference of Agriculture Ministers in New Delhi that rainfall in the southern districts was deficient by 25 per cent to 48 per cent. They were already facing mild drought.

Mr. Ratnakaran said that the area under paddy during the main virippu season had come down by 20 per cent in five districts because of drought. The paddy production had dropped by 15 per cent. The conditions of other crops were also not different.

He said that many had got the impression that there was no drought in Kerala because of the heavy rains and floods in some northern districts in July on account of climate change. Urgent intervention by the Centre was needed to help the State to face the impacts of drought and climate change.

The Minister also urged that the Centre should offer a relief package to save the farmers of the State from the impact of free trade agreement with ASEAN nations. A meeting of Ministers and members of Parliament should be convened urgently to discuss the issue.

Mr. Ratnakaran also called for sanctioning of irrigation projects on the Kabani basin and Meppayyur in Kozhikode district as part of measures to mitigate the effect of climate change. Micro irrigation projects should be taken up on a war-footing. The Centre should sanction 90 per cent subsidy for them. It should also provide Rs. 60 crore to resume paddy cultivation and vegetable cultivation in fields that are remaining fallow. The small and medium farmers should be provided with 50 per cent subsidy for using ground water sources. The Food Security Programme, being implemented in Palakkad district, should be extended to the kole fields of Thrissur and Ponnani and the Pokkali fields of Ernakulam district.

A study centre on climate change should be sanctioned for Kuttanad, and special programmes should be devised to assist farmers affected by climate change. Fund sunder the Kuttanad and Idukki packages should be released urgently. Coconut should be declared as oilseed.