The then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had advised Kerala to concentrate on cash crops which earned foreign exchange for the country. He had said that the rest of the country would meet the foodgrains requirement of Kerala. Is it time to take a fresh look at the State’s agricultural priorities? Our readers respond:

Food security a must

It was the vision and foresight of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru that Kerala concentrate on cash-crop production to earn the much needed foreign exchange and that its food grain requirements could be adequately met by the rest of the country. The State still does its part but one tends to believe that when it comes to meeting its other foodgrain requirements, only crocodile tears are shed, irrespective of who is in power. Historically, the average size of land holdings in the State was so small that it was not possible to employ any capital-intensive techniques of production. This made commercial farming a distant and perhaps unattainable goal for the State farmers. Now, with land prices rocketing, there has been large-scale conversion of paddy fields flouting extant laws. Considering the observation made by M.S. Swaminathan in the columns of The Hindu that “Global food prices are rising steeply and there is no immediate respite in sight,” it is high time we initiated all-out efforts to stimulate agricultural growth and safeguard food security, however tiny the holdings are. The obvious requirement is to ban conversion of paddy fields, besides providing State assistance for augmenting agricultural production.

M.M. Pillai


A common story

My grandfather was the last in the line of farmers in my family. I used to stay with him during my childhood in the Sixties. Everybody on the farm was busy sowing, working the water wheel, harvesting, threshing, husking the grains and doing other things. The granaries were always full. There was enough for the household and the labourers and a surplus for sale to meet cash requirements.

Things began to change towards the latter half of the Sixties. Children of the farmers and the labourers were no longer interested in farming. Shortage of farm hands was creating tensions in the farming community as old loyalties gave way to market forces. Labourers were in great demand and they were enjoying the situation.

Then came the tractor and the tiller, giving solace to the farmers but threatening the new-found freedom and importance of the labourers. The farmers and the farm hands stopped working together and started working against each other. The paddy fields turned into battle fields and political groups were out to fish in the troubled waters. Our family bid farewell to farming and so did many others.

The paddy production in Kerala has been decreasing ever since. As I drive everyday to my work place in Piravom, I find that the once lush green paddy fields on either side of the road are still lush green. But there is no paddy, only grass and no cattle to graze on it.

Raju K. John


Ensure rice cultivation

For any country to be stable, peaceful and prosperous, it should ensure availability of adequate food grains, preferably indigenous, at reasonable prices.

Our staple food is rice. To make the State self-sufficient in foodgrains, at least rice, the following steps should be considered: (i) the available rice fields should be utilised to the maximum for rice crops, introducing improved sowing methods and seeds (ii) convert, wherever possible, the other crops fields for rice crops.

India’s trade unions had cried foul when the computer was introduced; similarly, they are now trying to block harvesters. This is happening at a time when agriculture workers are in short supply and farmers have to depend on harvesters also. This puts the farmer in further crisis. They are already in debt from the loss of crop due to unseasonal rain. The government should, therefore, interfere, wherever necessary, bearing in mind not only the interest of the working class, but also the agriculturists.

Pandit Nehru advised cultivation of cash crops for foreign exchange earnings which was very precious then. However, now our foreign exchange scenario is optimistic. Also, he being a national leader and statesman would never have thought of future politicians indulging in parochialism; perhaps that is why he thought of other States meeting our foodgrain needs.

Ambalath Aboobakar


Shifting with the times

With the shift in Kerala’s basic trait as an agriculture-based society to a service, industry and trade oriented one and the dwindling of agriculture land holding, the need to focus on other agricultural avenues has assumed significance. Notwithstanding the large number engaged in cultivation of cereals and vegetables, we still have to depend on other states to meet our food requirements. It is in this context that the suggestion of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to Keralites to go in for cultivation of cash crops has to be viewed.

As we are not in a position to produce cereals and vegetables to meet our requirements and cash crops offer great scope in terms of value-addition compared to cereals and vegetables, we should actively consider moving to production of cash crops in an intensive manner so that cultivators are assured of higher income. Self-sufficiency in food production is to be seen at the national level instead of at the State level. Along with cash crops we can initiate steps to propagate horticulture and floriculture in a sustained manner. The small land owners can consider growing herbal plants.

T.N. Ramachandran Nair


Dwindling production

In Kerala, which has the maximum density of population, the availability of agricultural land is severely restricted. With the advent of strong trade union activism among farm labourers and rocketing of farm expenses, the farmers of the available land terminated paddy cultivation. Conversion of paddy fields into housing colonies further dwindled paddy production in the State, forcing people to depend on external supplies to meet the food requirement. This arrangement works satisfactorily as long as the source of supply is undisturbed. But, in a federal structure this cannot be ensured; as it has happened now. A vast majority of farmers have switched over to production of cash crops as it more profitable and involves less labour. During the period immediately after Independence, export of these products was a foreign exchange earner. At that time it was promised that the food requirement of the State would be looked after by transporting them from the surplus States. But States have more liberty and the Centre’s directives are less effective, unlike in the Nehruvian period.

O.B. Nair


Lay stress on paddy

Kerala has always been a food deficit State. And to its folly, the State concentrates on cash crops. In 1952, the area under paddy cultivation was 7.6 lakh hectares. Now, it is around 2.5 lakh hectares. As a result of this, the State is now facing an acute food crisis. In 1952 the State produced 45 per cent of the rice it needed. In 1999 the deficit rose to 76 per cent, and now it is almost at 85 per cent. Adding to the woes was the introduction of the targeted public distribution system in 1997 which weakened the universal rationing system.

The reasons for this are not hard to find. The State governments, both the Left and the right, have ignored paddy cultivation for years,. The State has no food policy and no programmes to increase foodgrain production. Indiscriminate reclamation of paddy fields and destruction of water bodies have aggravated the situation. The budget allocation for the farm sector is alarmingly low. Government apathy towards paddy cultivation is evident from the fact that rubber enjoys more State subsidy than paddy. The State should lay more stress on paddy cultivation. Instead of profit driven commercialisation of agriculture, cooperative farming should be given priority.

R.K. Vijay Nambiar


Stick to cash crops

Nehru’s idea is still relevant and what he said was merely the obvious and the practical.

After all, the mother of all cash crops – spices – had for centuries lured Europeans and Arabs to our shores. Rather than try to reinvigorate rice cultivation, we may stick with cash crops, concentrating on the relatively modern ones – fruits and vegetables. They are viable even on tiny patches/spaces like kitchen gardens and rooftops.

If organically farmed, the produce will be healthy and will make the producer wealthy by fetching higher prices.

Cereals, however, must be bulk-produced to be economical, something difficult to achieve after land reforms wiped out large, integrated landholdings. Also, the larger share of cereals in a standard diet makes bulk production inevitable. Fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, though only moderately consumed per capita, are much sought after by the Malayali diasporas.

Devraj Sambasivan