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Cyclone Gaja: the aftermath

Should Nagapattinam ryots persist with paddy farming?

Vulnerability of the district to extreme weather raises serious doubts

November 19, 2018 01:00 am | Updated 07:33 am IST - CHENNAI

TIRUCHI, TAMIL NADU, 01/12/2016: A farmer applying fertilizer to the paddy crop during the heavy rain in a field near Vengur in Tiruchi on December 01, 2016.
Photo: M.Moorthy

TIRUCHI, TAMIL NADU, 01/12/2016: A farmer applying fertilizer to the paddy crop during the heavy rain in a field near Vengur in Tiruchi on December 01, 2016. Photo: M.Moorthy

The impact of Cyclone Gaja on Nagapattinam district has once again brought to the fore the advisability of farmers in the area sticking to paddy cultivation.

Even though it is too early to assess the damage to the paddy crop in the district, a section of stakeholders stresses the fact that the district is vulnerable to extreme situations — drought and floods, making it difficult for paddy cultivation.

Nagapattinam, ranked among the bottom 10 districts of the State in the 2017 Human Development Report, is located at the tail end of the Cauvery river basin. This is why complaints of water not reaching many paddy fields during the Kuruvai or Samba cultivation season are quite common. At the same time, when the northeast monsoon is vigorous, it is often at the receiving end.

Prawn farming

“It is time that farmers in the district consider seriously migrating to prawn farming in a big way. Parts of the district are located at a level lower than the mean sea level, making inundation a constant feature. Seawater intrusion is also happening,” said S. Ranganathan, general secretary of the Cauvery Delta Farmers’ Welfare Association.

C. Ramasamy, former Vice-Chancellor of the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, does not completely endorse what Mr. Ranganathan said, but emphasises that seasonal fish culture can be taken up by farmers to supplement their agricultural income.

As for the prawn farms, he said maintenance is an important issue that cannot be handled by every farmer. However, this position was not shared by others. Pointing out that Nagapattinam forms part of the traditional rice bowl of the State, Mani Shankar Aiyar, former Union Minister, who was elected from the Mayiladuthurai parliamentary constituency (which covers the district) thrice, said that it would be a “great loss” to the nation’s food security.

He called for designing appropriate insurance policies that would protect farmers against cyclones and water shortages.

On the issue of diversification, Mr. Aiyar, who was last elected from the constituency in 2004, says economic development diversification should take place only with the consent of people. He recalls how his attempts to introduce prawn farming in the area during 1991-96 had failed, “Had I consulted adequately the people before bringing in a huge number of big industrialists [to set up the prawn farms], may be today, it would be a major centre of export-oriented prawn farming. Because of the mistake that I made at the beginning of not consulting people, neither has prawn farming has taken off nor have people progressed nor have my political prospects improved.”

‘Dam runoff helps’

O.S. Manian, Handlooms Minister and Vedaranyam legislator, said that if water gets released from the Mettur dam on the scheduled day of June 12, there will be no problem.

Recalling that prawn farms too were affected during the 2015 floods, K. Balakrishnan, State secretary of the CPI(M) and farmers’ leader, said that even though he does not view prawn farming as the alternative, there is a need for studying ways to improve the situation, a suggestion accepted by former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa.

Quoting the 2015-16 figures of the district’s paddy production, the official asked: “When the district produces 3.4 lakh tonnes of paddy from around 1.5 lakh hectares, providing livelihood to 1.73 lakh land-owning farmers and over three lakh labourers, why should it give up paddy?”

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