Agriculture Minister Mullakara Ratnakaran has said that availability of skilled labour to meet mechanisation of the agriculture sector is vital for the food security programme.

He was inaugurating the Agriculture Department's district-level free training programme for the youth for operating farm machinery here on Friday.

Kerala is heavily dependent on other States for meeting its food requirements. But, most of the commodities coming from the other States are unsafe for consumption. Such food is now being seen as the cause for diseases, including cancer, he said. “In order to ensure safe food for the people, we have to become part of the food production process.”

He said over the past 30 years, the State had endured a mass exodus of farm labour, which had hit the agriculture sector. Kerala along with many other States were demanding that at least 50 per cent of the allocation to the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme should be linked to agriculture. But this alone would not suffice to meet the targets of the food security programme.

“Therefore mechanisation is needed. Taking into consideration the peculiar terrain of Kerala, the State needs specially designed equipment too.”

The Minister said soon Kuttanad would be getting combine harvesters specially designed to operate in below sea level paddy fields.

The roadside cultivation scheme of the State government from Vyttila to Kasaragod would be inaugurated next week at a function in Kannur.

Mr. Ratnakaran called for promoting upland farming in the State. While the annual rice requirement of the State was 40 lakh tonnes, the target of the State was to produce 15 lakh tonnes by 2015.

The objective of the training programme was to ensure availability of skilled labour for mechanising the farm sector. Training would also be given to maintain and repair equipment. The training programme was aimed at generating awareness on farm mechanisation and through that more jobs in the sector.

The Minister also inaugurated a mobile soil testing laboratory of the Agriculture Department.

District panchayat president R. Gopalakrishna Pillai presided over the function. Vice-president S. Jayanti spoke. Principal Agricultural Officer S. Mohanachandran welcomed the gathering and Agriculture Deputy Director Geena John proposed a vote of thanks.

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