K. Venkiteswaran

‘Need to address ecological issues’

Three-pronged strategy for Kerala

Management reform needed

KOCHI: Renowned scientific leader of the Green Revolution movement in India Dr. M.S. Swaminathan has said that Kerala’s future lies in agricultural transformation because agriculture still is the mainstay of the majority of the people of the State. Although tourism is coming up in a big way, tourism and aquaculture is potentially a goldmine for Kerala, he told The Hindu here in an exclusive interview.

Detailing the methods through which Kerala can maintain its lead in agricultural production and improving the living conditions of the farming community here, Dr. Swaminathan said that Kerala should have a three pronged strategy.

First, more than 70 per cent of the area is under plantation crops, Kerala has the largest of such crops. Kerala is more of an export crop oriented economy. This means prices will vary, fluctuate, demand and supply rules. If coffee crop in Brazil or Columbia is poor in a particular year, the prices here will go up. The next year it will come down. So, in these crops there is a need to increase home consumption of many of Kerala’s agricultural products. “We must have a sub state of stability; it is necessary to ensure that the prices do not fluctuate,” he said.


Then Kerala will have to develop mechanisms such as the price stabilisation fund to help the farmers in the years in which the prices go down so that the farmers need not have to borrow so much money at very high interest rates. “The State needs to improve all round efficiency of its agriculture sector. The real problem is that most of these commodity boards are dealing with commodities. Kerala Agriculture department and so on are not involved. The Agriculture department, the Commerce department and the boards, all need to work together.” Most of the plantations are small holders. Countries such as Malaysia have done well in this aspect, especially in small holding rubber estates. The government there is giving a number of centralised services to the small planters to promote efficient and decentralised production.

Management reform

“I would say a management reform is needed in Kerala for its small scale plantation structure; market reform is needed where much of the profit money goes to the producer than to the exporter and the trader. Today, the trader and exporter are thriving more than the farmers. So that is one aspect when 70 per cent of the crops are for export,” Mr. Swaminathan said.

Secondly, Kerala has also large amount of coconut; the whole oil seed economy in the country today is dependant on it. The prices of oil seed are going up globally.

Coconut productivity is low in Kerala with some parts of the State affected by the root wilt disease. The State needs to address these issues along with those of the plantation crops. Areas under paddy cultivation have shrunk in the State because of the uneconomic nature of cultivation. High labour cost, uneconomic nature of paddy, and lack of adequate mechanisation are some of the factors contributing to this problem. Add to these factors is the growing pressure on land. “We have dealt with these in detail in our report on Kuttanad in Alappuzha, ‘How to restructure a new Kuttanad in terms of paddy production.’

Value addition

Thirdly, Kerala must be doing much more value addition to primary products. Pepper in terms of oleoresins, every product you must think of both the biomass and how to produce non-farm employment. Government of India has schemes such as Agri Business Centre and Agri clinics, which have not taken off. What is important is how do you provide for other people, especially the graduates who pass out of agricultural universities and veterinary colleges and management institutes, home science colleges?

We have to give much more opportunities for them to add value to primary products, link it to the markets and so on.

On the other hand is the large number of house boats, their possibility of pollution. This is the area where what is called sustainable development, where the short term and the long term are not in mutual conflict, is important.