It is startling that Kuttanad, a major rice granary of Kerala, has to look elsewhere for paddy seeds.
This puncha (first) crop season, several farmers have been forced to arrange seeds from neighbouring States and individual farmers after government agencies failed to provide enough quality seeds when sowing began a few weeks ago.
Though paddy is cultivated in large tracts of land in Kuttanad, its record on seed production remains abysmal. Paddy farmers in the region largely depend on the Agriculture department for seeds at a subsidised rate. The department arranges seeds mostly through its own Kerala State Seed Development Authority (KSSDA) and National Seed Corporation (NSC).
Farmers and padasekhara samitis say they are often faced with seed shortages. Farmers of the 200-acre Vadakara Edassery Varabinakam padasekharam at Edathua are among those who have to obtain seeds from other States this season.
“We needed some 7,700 kg of seeds of Manuratna, a short-duration rice variety. We first approached Kerala Agricultural University but found the seeds there to be of poor quality. Attempts to obtain seeds from the KSSDA also turned futile. Finally, we procured seeds from the Karnataka State Seeds Corporation (KSSC) with the help of the Agriculture department,” says Cyriac Jose, secretary, Vadakara Edassery Varabinakam padasekharam.
On an average, farmers in Alappuzha undertake paddy cultivation on 26,000 hectares in the puncha crop season (the season witnesses the largest acreage of paddy cultivation), a major portion of which is in Kuttanad. As many as 2,600 tonnes of seed are needed.
The Aikya Padasekhara Samithi, a collective of paddy polder committees, blames the KSSDA for the crisis. “The KSSDA lacks facilities and means for bulk production and processing of seeds to cater to the high demand of the region,” says Thankachan Pattathil, secretary of the samithi.
Officials of the Agriculture department, however, suggest farmers in Kuttanad join its Registered Seed Growers Programme (RSGP), which would help address the issue to a large extent.
“We usually arrange seeds from the KSSDA, NSC and KSSC. This season, the NSC and KSSC faced some shortages and the burden of providing seeds fell on the KSSDA. That said, it should be noted that farmers in Kuttanad are not willing to produce seeds. A number of farmers in Palakkad have joined the RSGP. They are providing seeds on a regular basis and earn a few bucks,” says an Agriculture department official, adding that making the RSGP scheme more attractive would help more farmers join it.
Pointing out that the KSSDA has limitations, the official suggests the constitution of an independent seed corporation in the State.