KERALA

Areca nut farmers to shift to paddy cultivation



Crop diseases are widely prevalent in the areca nut farms in Thiruvambadi.



Areca nut farmers in Thiruvambadi whose crops have been hit by diseases are considering shifting to paddy cultivation to tide over the crisis. As top priority is being given to rice farming to ensure food security, funding and technical support are not a problem.

The Paddy Mission, Agriculture Department and panchayats have declared support to paddy cultivators.

Thiruvambadi, which once had 500 hectares of land under paddy cultivation, today grows rice on only seven hectares.

Of the 1,300 hectares acreage under areca, 400 hectares has been rendered unproductive due to “yellowing” disease. Seventy-five of these 400 hectares of diseased areca plantations is low-lying land making them suitable for paddy cultivation.

R. Ilangovan, head of the Paddy Mission activities in Kozhikode district, said the yellowing disease had manifested itself on soil which was not fit for areca cultivation in the first place.

“Some of these lands are original paddy lands but the topography has changed now. With coordinated work, we can make rice cultivation successful here,” Dr. Ilangovan said.

The project will take at least a year. Dr. Ilangovan hopes the enthusiasm of the farmers will not wane. “The areca trees need to be cut and their roots removed using earth-movers. Drainage should be dug, as water-logging impedes rice yield. Seed varieties suited to local conditions and a plant nursery are required,” he said.

Scarcity of labour and the lack of financial and technical support from the government had led to abandoning of paddy cultivation here. Officials plan to address these fundamental issues to motivate the farmers to return to paddy farming.

Small machines such as transplanter, reaper and ‘methi yanthram’ will help reduce labour and costs.

Dr. Ilangovan said the overall project cost would be included in a proposal to the Planning Board to get the required funding.

In addition, Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana funds will be used for seed and fertilizer subsidies. The drainage work will be included in the Rs.12-crore NREGP panchayat master plan for 2009-14. All these ensure a financial cushion for the paddy farmer that has sparked the new-found interest in rice cultivation in the area.

Labour unavailability will be tackled by inviting Kudumbasree workers and local self-help groups to participate in the project and help them take farm lands on lease.

For the first phase, the panchayat has identified four acres where areca will be cut and rice cultivated. The seven hectares where single cropping of rice is already being done will be double-cropped. Two high-yielding seed varieties will be introduced in Thiruvamabadi and a one-acre plot to house a nursery has been identified.

“The shift to cash crops has made our farmers lazy. But the pattern of cooperative farming we plan to adopt in Thiruvambadi will yield results,” Dr. Ilangovan said. With Kerala producing only two months of rice and depending on other States for the remaining months, small experiments like the one in Thiruvambadi hold the key to the State’s fight to achieve food security.

Jiby Kattakayam

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