COVID-19 Makes Kerala aim for Food Self-Sufficiency
The Kerala State is the first in the country in human development index, literacy rate and sex ratio. In recent years, the State is going ahead as a potential destination for ecotourism, information technology health tourism etc. Also has set an outstanding example of dealing the current Covid19 situation to the world. However the predominantly agro based rural economy drags back the State economy.
Over the past years, the state’s once-flourished agrarian society had been witnessing a gradual transformation in farming. Farmers are shifting from cultivation of food crops to that of cash crops such as spices and rubber. Conversion of large-scale paddy fields for other crops and construction purposes added to the problem. In addition, several farmers abandoned the occupation due to a decline in profits while many found income sources elsewhere such as from foreign remittances turning Kerala to a consumerist society.
Kerala’s consumerist society is a deeply dependent one on the other states for grains fruits vegetables and other essential items. Truckloads of fresh stocks from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and other states cross the Kerala border daily. Government had the fears that a prolonged lockdown could become a reality and supply chains could collapse in neighboring states leading to the shortage of essentials in the state in long run. In a press conference on April 22, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that even as the state is food secure in the short run, considering a prolonged crisis and lockdown, there would be a need for Kerala to be self-reliant in food production. “We should be able to increase production for our own consumption and reduce our dependency on other states. We should be prepared to face any shortage or scarcity of food,” Vijayan said.
The cabinet meeting held on April 29 decided that the Department of Agriculture would coordinate the ‘action plan’ with the close collaboration of other concerned ministries to give a new life to agriculture in the state.
The action plan will cover various types of food production, including poultry, fish farming, and milk production, among others.
Major action plans are as below:
· Kerala’s cabinet gave its approval on April 29, 2020, for an Rs 3,000 crore-action plan aimed at making state self-reliant for food needs amid fears that the lockdown due to the novel corona virus disease (COVID-19) pandemic could leave the state in a vulnerable situation.
· In addition to these, 1,40,000 hectares of additional land would be used for side-cropping. The selection of crop would be decided based on soil-nature and climatic conditions of identified plots as guided by the agriculture department.
· Efforts to improve vegetable cultivation using kitchen gardens, rooftop cultivation and community projects by making the best use of the available land in the state.
· Exploring advancements in agricultural techniques to boost productivity within limited land resources while increasing farmers’ income rather than following traditional farming practices.
· Government to setup cold storages in places where there was excess agriculture production.
· The government would promote the traditional local markets while exploring the possibilities in digital marketing as well.
· Plans to increase rice cultivation to over 25,000 hectares in the next two years. Cultivation of cereals, vegetables and fruits while reviving its traditional tuber crops, tapioca, and plantain / banana to be increased to a larger area.
· The supply of grains was ensured via the public distribution system.
· Although agriculture comes under essential services and markets were excluded from the lockdown, farmers were left high and dry with harvesting, procurement and transportation. That’s when the State government stepped in and the vegetables and the fruits were bought, transported and marketed through Horticorp and VFPCK (Vegetable and Fruit Promotion Council Keralam) outlets by The Department of Agriculture Development & Farmers’ Welfare.
When the lockdown was announced, a WhatsApp group was formed at the State-level to track the movement of vegetables and fruits and to learn about surplus produce in each district. The group includes principal agricultural officers of all districts, marketing officers of the department, assistant directors, farmers and representatives of farmers’ groups. WhatsApp groups were also formed at the district-level to help the farmers. Government is planning to continue the same model in an effective way for the future.
· Converting wastelands for farming, promoting kitchen gardening, boosting animal husbandry and fisheries among state’s action plan to become food secure
· The State will set up a modern processing unit to convert milk-to-milk power. Existing dairy plants will be diversified for more value added products.
· In addition, emphasis will be given for promoting animal husbandry and fisheries with the coordination of local government bodies. Each panchayat will be encouraged to start their own dairy farms while Kudumbashree will also be roped in for managing poultry farms.
· Government to seek a comprehensive financial package to central government for fish farming. Fisheries will be provided with support. Abandoned ponds will be used for fish farming. Sea fish farming will be explored. Shrimp farming will be promoted
· To encourage more people to take up farming, the government plans to make interest-free and/ or low-interest credit available to farmers through cooperative banks. The chief minister has also exhorted the youths and returning unemployed expatriates to take up farming for giving a new face to the state’s agriculture.
· Fishlings to be deposited in public water bodies while unused water bodies will be utilized for fisheries purpose.
· Encouraging the public to make the lockdown time productive by engaging in vegetable cultivation in their backyards. local bodies re entrusted to make seeds available for every households.
· Measures to be double the area under vegetable cultivation to meet the demands.
· Rs 1500 crore will be raised from the plan outlay to the local bodies and various departments. The remaining amount will be procured as loans from NABARD and co-operative societies. The chief minister has also instructed co-operatives to lend at low interest rate or interest-free.
· Mixed cultivation will be promoted on 1.40 lakh ha of land.
· Campaigns to be conducted at the village level. The landowners who are willing to do farming will get support from the state. In other places, Self Help Groups, Kudumbasree, etc. will take over the cultivation processes with the consent of the land owner.
· The short-term plan will be rolled out from June onwards to enable harvesting in September — coinciding with the peak in demand during the festival of Onam.
As the state is gearing up to become self sufficient in food production, weather based crop modelling and soil based farming technology has to be top priorities. Crop varieties suitable for climate resilient agriculture, realistic measures for conservation of soil and water resources and solar powered farm implements are some important steps towards this objective. A holistic approach is also imperative for sustainable agriculture, which would not materialize without the integration of different components such as plants, animals, poultry and fish. The future of agriculture rests on such an indispensable integration of all the components along with the active participation of the people and local governing bodies.
Article by: Linsu Cherian, Agri Professional, Kerala
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