Need to promote agriculture in a big way in North Andhra

Need to promote agriculture in a big way in North Andhra

From the times immemorial, historians described India as a land of milk and honey as it is blessed with innumerable natural resources Dubbed as Annapoorna The food bowl of India Andhra Pradesh is a major producer of rice, wheat, sugarcane, cotton, maize, pulses, spices, tobacco and chillies

Srikakulam: From the times immemorial, historians described India as a land of milk and honey as it is blessed with innumerable natural resources. Dubbed as ‘Annapoorna (The food bowl of India) Andhra Pradesh is a major producer of rice, wheat, sugarcane, cotton, maize, pulses, spices, tobacco and chillies.

There is no dearth for perennial rivers like The Godavari, Krishna, Penna, Nagavali and Vamshadhara that emerge from both the Eastern and the Western Ghats surrounding the State.

Andhra Pradesh is also the proud owner of the fertile alluvial soil in and around the river catchment areas and the delta basin. Yet, the State in general and the northern part of the Andhra Pradesh in particular is unable to feed its own people.

It is a dire necessity today for AP to re-evaluate why her children are dying due to hunger and malnutrition and why the farmers from the northern part of the State are migrating from their native land, leaving their kith and kin and their community in search of livelihood?

Unlike Israel, a nation located on the Southeastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, with a desert and semi arid climate, the three northern Andhra districts namely Srikakulam, Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam are blessed with abundant water resources drawn from the perennial rivers flowing across these three districts namely Nagavali, Vamsadhara, and their tributaries including Tandava, Sharada, Champavathi, Mahendra Tanaya, Bahuda and Gosthani along with innumerable other tanks, water reservoirs, waterfalls and canals.

Why the farmers of the Uttara Andhra region are drifting away from one of the world’s most ancient occupations, namely the agriculture? Traditionally, the farmers inherit the knowledge on soil, seed and cultivation practices from their ancestors.

They are trained for ages only to work and live in the farm lands. With no water around and with meagre resources in hand to invest on seeds, manure, pesticides and labour, farmers are selling their valuable lands at a throwaway prices to work as daily wage labourers in factories, construction sites and restaurants to feed their families.

As a result, the farmers are losing land ownership and majority are turning into landless laborers. The geographical area available from the 3 Northern Andhra districts is 23,537 sq kilometers. Out of this, only 11.26 lakh hectares cultivable land is available in Uttara Andhra. Only 5.44 lakh hectares is being used for cultivation with irrigated water.

However, the three neighboring districts of the Uttara Andhra, namely East and West Godavari and Guntur possess 31,983 sq. km of land and 20.73 lakh hectares of land is available for cultivation, where 15.13 lakh hectares of areas could get irrigation.

While less than 50% of the land is brought under cultivation in the three Uttara Andhra districts, 70 to 80% of the land is cultivable in the neighbouring districts. The population pressure is equally mounting on North Andhra districts reaching 10 million, which is double the population of Singapore.

Agriculture happened to be the sole contributor of the economy in the past by employing more than 80% of the rural population. It is gradually shrinking; The rate of employment in the rural areas of Srikakulam, Vizianagaram, and Visakhapatnam is 37%, 36%, and 36% respectively.

Only 12.8% in Srikakulam, 18.3% in Vizianagaram and 17.0 4 in Visakhapatnam are engaged in agriculture. The predominantly rural population of the Uttara Andhra, comprising of schedule castes, schedule tribes and the economically and socially backward sections (more than 80%) can’t be absorbed in other sectors with meager literacy levels (less than 50%).

The only way to generate income in these sections of the population is to increase the land under cultivation by clearing suitable forest and non-forest areas.

Although water resources are in plenty in multiple forms in these three districts, they are not accessible to the people as there are no reservoirs and canals that could preserve and supply water for cultivation. Together, these three districts could generate 200 tmcft of water annually and at least 100 tmcft of water is going waste into the ocean.

Out of 40,000 water ponds in the entire State, 25,000 of them are located within these three districts. There are 9,000 fresh water ponds in Srikakulam, 4,000 in Vishakhapatnam, and 10,000 of them are there in the Vizianagaram district.

Together, these three districts are holding 65% of the minor water sources in the State. However, majority of these water sources are subjected to arbitrary and illegal encroachments or else became dump yards due to lack of maintenance.

When you have abundant water resources and plenty of land still available for cultivation, the only way to employ your rural population is to adopt a holistic land and water management methods.

Rural participation and awareness is important in driving the tribal population towards more productive employment. Out of 10 million population from the three districts, 36% are rural and only 10% are employed in agriculture and the rest are underemployed or unemployed.

By preventing wastage of water and by completing the pending irrigation projects in these three districts, it is possible to increase the cultivable area to at least 30 lakh hectares.

By making the best use of at least 80 tmcft, (out of available 325 tmcft including water from Uttara Andhra Sujala Sravanthi) and by adopting organic farming practices, it is possible to employ 4 lakh more people in agricultural sector and feed 40 lakh additional people in North Andhra.

(Dr Srinubabu Gedela has completed Ph D from Andhra University and Post-doctorate from Stanford University. The research work is part of Pulsus Group CSR activity)

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