It will hit traditional food system, affect crop diversity, experts say
: The government’s promise to distribute 30 kg of rice at Re. 1 per kg to below the poverty line (BPL) families is likely to affect the cropping pattern in parts of Mysore and surrounding regions where farmers are contemplating a shift to commercial crops.
Experts believe it will have a bearing on the traditional food system in rural areas apart from affecting crop diversity, as the bulk of small and marginal farmers will quit paddy cultivation. Since rice will be made available to them through the public distribution system, it will supplant the millet-based dietary pattern as well, it is feared.
The common refrain is that 30 kg of rice at Rs. 30 per family is more than sufficient to make ends meet and there is no need to cultivate paddy or cereals for sustenance; hence the argument in favour of cultivating commercial crops to earn extra income.
Though the scheme is meant only for those having a BPL card, the bulk the farmers, including the landed gentry, have BPL cards.
Vivek Cariappa, an organic farmer from Birval in H .D.Kote, told The Hindu that farmers in the region have taken up cotton and ginger cultivation and have ignored food and fodder crops altogether this season. “The cascading impact of such a shift in cropping pattern will affect livestock the most as there will be a scarcity of fodder,” he said.
Krishnaprasad of Sahaja Samruddha, an organisation promoting a millet-based cropping system, said paddy cultivation under rain-fed conditions as in H.D. Kote in Mysore district and parts of Malavalli and Melkote in Mandya district, will disappear. “Studies showed a decline in paddy cultivation as also in the genetic diversity — especially in the Rayalaseema region and areas bordering Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh after Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N.T. Rama Rao first announced rice at Rs. 2 per kg in the 1980s,” Mr. Krishnaprasad said.
He expressed concern that such schemes will harm paddy cultivation and farmers’ interests in the long run as the bulk of subsidised rice will enter the PDS through the back door and will be made available to the general public at a slightly higher rate and keep the price of rice depressed.
“Paddy cultivation will be sustainable, and not profitable, if the minimum support price (MSP) is around Rs. 20 per kg as per various studies. But the current MSP is around Rs. 12 per kg. So the government should increase the MSP for paddy to Rs. 20 per kg before announcing such schemes. If subsidised rice enters the PDS then farmers will have no incentive to take up paddy cultivation,” according to Mr. Krishnaprasad.
If rice is made available at Re. 1 per kg with no increase in the MSP, then not only will it impact paddy cultivation but also millet-based crops like ragi, which are highly nutritious, but there will be a decline in consumption as people’s food pattern will shift to a rice-based diet even in rural areas, cautioned Mr. Krishnaprasad.
Experts from Sahaja Samrudha say there is a gradual shift from a millet-based diet to a rice-based one in rural areas and this scheme will accelerate the process. Diseases like diabetes, which were unheard of in rural areas till recently, will increase with such a shift.
The government should take a long-term and holistic view and encourage millet-based food through the PDS as they are not only nutritious but are not water-intensive. This will not only sustain crop diversity and conserve water but also keep the population healthy, according to Sahaja Samruddha.