Though Tamil Nadu won the Krishi Karman award for its achievement in food grains production for 2011-12, the dwindling area of cultivation is placing a strain on agriculture production in the State.

While conversion of farmlands for non-agricultural purposes have a detrimental effect on crop cultivation, a host of other factors such as lack of farm labourers, delay in release of water, vagaries of monsoon, dwindling water resources, high cost of cultivation, obsolete technologies, imperfect adoption of innovative technologies and marginal returns pose a challenge to the primary sector in the State.

“The trend is fluctuating or rather stagnant. Of course, the area under cultivation is dwindling, but it is compensated by higher yield per acre. But if the trend continues it may not augur well,” said Professor S. Janakarajan of Madras Institute of Development Studies.

Recently, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa had said the decrease in the area of cultivation could hit food production and spoke of new schemes to improve the area as well as production of every crop.

Paddy cultivation in the State, especially in the delta area, is seen by experts as being at the mercy of the monsoon and the release of Cauvery water by Karnataka. This also contributed to fall in paddy production. “Acres and acres of wet land in many districts, including the delta districts are converted for non-agricultural purposes. You can see the trend mainly in Namakkal, Karur, Tiruchi and Thanjavur districts. Thermal power plants and educational institutions are gobbling up wet lands,” Mr Janakarajan said.

He explained that though rules would not easily permit conversion of farm lands for other purposes, farmers deliberately avoided cultivation and made the land fallow. “After sometime, they can use the land for other purposes with the connivance of officials,” he said.

If paddy cultivation is under severe stress, data available with the agriculture department show that millet cultivation in the State has fallen by 50 per cent in three decades. Millets were cultivated on 35 lakh acres of rain-fed areas in 1980, but the area of cultivation was just around 15 lakh acres in 2010.

Besides announcing Rs 7.20 crore package for initiating cultivation on 12,500 acres of arid land, Ms. Jayalalithaa announced a mission mode scheme at a cost of Rs 114.20 crore for increasing paddy, millets and pulses. As there is no breakthrough in raising the productivity of pulses, the government has decided to cultivate red gram on 50,000 acres and allocated Rs 55.60 lakh for drip irrigation.

As far as oilseeds are concerned, they are grown predominantly in rain-fed areas. Crops such as groundnut are highly capital-intensive and farmers switch over to other crops. Non-availability of farm labour is a serious constraint, especially for the harvest of groundnut.

“Lack of farm labour is a major issue. Farmers suffer because even during peak period, farm labourers are not available and are absorbed by works in MNREGS,” said Mr. Janakarajan.

Cotton cultivation does not show any promise either. From 1999-2000 onwards, the area under cotton crop has declined from 2.5 lakh hectare to to 1.5 lakh hectare and, accordingly, production has also decreased.

However, the area under sugarcane crop is on the increase since 1983-84 and the production is also going up.

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