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Kerala faces grim food scarcity

Jun 04, 2010

With the gap between production and requirement of food grain widening every year, Kerala’s food scene is turning gloomy. The steeping increase in food prices indicates the state’s large dependence on other states and an urgent need of a mechanism to face the imminent food crisis.

Kerala is known for its greenery. Any tourist visiting will be dazzled by the exhilarating beauty of the long stretches of paddy fields resting in tranquility. Well, this is all good for an occasional visitor to the land, but this beauty does not spell joy for the Keralites anymore.

The food scene in Kerala is turning grim as factors ranging from global to local, accelerate the scarcity and price hike of food crops. Kerala does not produce even one forth of the total requirement of food grain, viz, rice.

Kerala is in need of 38 lakh tonnes of rice per year, while the quantity of production is only 6 lakh tonnes. In other words, 84 % of the food grain required comes from other states, namely Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.  The gap between production and requirement is widening every year.

More and more farmers are retreating from farming. The capital investment in farming by the Government is falling down to zero. The unseasoned rainfall, rising temperature and the depletion of groundwater are some crucial factors that worsen the situation.

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There has been an unprecedented hike in the price of rice over three years. In 2007, the price of rice in the open market was Rs 12 per kg. In 2010; Keralites pay Rs 25 for one kg of rice. The Food and Agriculture Organization foresee 70 % hike in the price of rice every year.

If the price continues to shoot up in this fashion, a Malayali will have to pay Rs 150 to buy one kg of rice by 2014! This alarming prediction by experts is rationalised by the socio-economic factors surrounding agriculture in Kerala.

The driving force for a farmer to continue farming is zero in the present circumstances. There is a sharp decline in the number of farmers and agriculture labourers in the state. According to the 1981 census 13% of the total population belonged to the farming community, which by 2001 reduced to 7%. The population of agriculture labourers similarly has declined from 28% to 16 %. While there is an increase of 11% every year in the agriculture related expense for a farmer, the price for his products have seen a mere 6% hike. And these indicators are only the tip of the iceberg.

“96% farmers are marginal farmers holding less than one acre of land. The chances of them to sustain farming are bleak”. P Indiradevi, professor in agriculture economics, Kerala Agriculture University, is not very optimistic of the scenario. “Kerala is hard hit by climate change too”, She observes. “Kerala faced the immediate variations of climate change. The south west Monsoon is playing mad over the past three years”. Paddy cultivation in Kerala is largely dependent on the two monsoon seasons, which go beyond predictions nowadays.

The present government has introduced a number of programmes to support paddy cultivation which resulted in a slight increase in the production. There has been a marginal increase in the production of rice in 2010. Compared to the need of the hour; such positive indicators do not look promising. If Kerala has to meet the requirement of rice and to control the price in the open market, it has either to expand the land for paddy cultivation or to increase the productivity from the available land. Both the options are unattainable according to agriculture experts.

It is widely said in Kerala that, if there is a total shut down in Tamil Nadu or Andhra Pradesh, Malayalis may not be able to eat. This has come to be true to a large extent. No mechanism has been sought yet to face the impending food crisis. On the contrary, more and more paddy fields are turning into sites for golf courses to shopping complexes and industrial parks to housing colonies.

Source : Tehelka
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