Orissa faces acute food insecurity

It is well known that farmers of Orissa are not the 'privileged ones'. What is not known, albeit, is the fact that their plight is all set to worsen, that too drastically. A recent study by researchers from the Orissa University of Agriculture Technology shows that the state faces 'acute' food insecurity due to a drastic decline in the production growth rate of major crops

 
By Satyasundar Barik
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

-- (Credit: Prageet Kumar Sahu)sumit Naik, a migratory worker in Bhubaneswar, has decided to be 'absent' from his native village of Ektal for much longer this year than is usual. He is forced to stay away from his home. Reason: his presence would worsen the food scarcity his family faces, despite having 1.5 hectares of cultivable land. Sumit's younger brother would soon join him. Both of them are considered lucky -- most marginal farmers cannot migrate to cities because of financial constraints.

This is the story of many, narrated numerous times. It is well known that farmers of Orissa are not the 'privileged ones'. What is not known, albeit, is the fact that their plight is all set to worsen, that too drastically. A recent study by researchers from the Orissa University of Agriculture Technology (ouat) shows that the state faces 'acute' food insecurity due to a drastic decline in the production growth rate of major crops. To make matters worse, the inter-district productivity gap -- the difference between districts having the lowest and the highest productivity of a particular crop -- has also widened.

The study -- Inter-district disparities in agricultural growth, agricultural productivity and poverty with special reference to food security in Orissa in the era of liberalisation -- indicates that the widening gap has lead to a two-dimensional impact on the state's crumbling economy: while there has been 'distress sale' of paddy in a few pockets, other areas have been constantly haunted by malnutrition, child-selling practices and starvation deaths due to food shortage.

The production growth rate of rice -- the staple food -- is shocking: (-) 1.94 per cent. The same is the case of other major crops -- pulses and oilseeds. Their production growth rate is (-) 4.29 per cent and (-) 3.78 per cent respectively. The negative trend is particularly alarming considering the required growth rate: three per cent for rice, 3.81 per cent for pulses, and 11.80 per cent for oilseeds. From 1994-1995 to 1999-2000, the inter-district productivity gap has increased from 119.53 per cent to 488.74 per cent (for rice), 75.41 per cent to 127.58 per cent (for pulses) and 426.34 per cent to 530.56 per cent (for oil seeds).

The study attributes the grim scenario to the vicious circle of drought, migration, poor economy and lack of application of location-specific scientific knowledge in the fields. During the last 100 years, the state has witnessed 23 droughts -- seven severe and 16 moderate ones. Huge crop loss during the calamity forces many marginal farmers, like Sumit, to migrate. By the time they return to their fields, it's too late: they not only miss the planning stage of a new cultivation season, but also fail to plough land in the crucial summer season. Furthermore, during a drought year, the high-yielding variety of seeds, supplied by the government agencies, do not achieve the targeted harvest; as a result, in the next growing season, farmers prefer not to depend on the 'scientifically developed' seeds, and end up using low-yielding varieties. This next growing season invariably turns out to be a 'normal' one. Encouraged by the little they gain due to the 'normal' year, the farmers invest all their meagre capital in the fields in the subsequent growing season, only to face a drought once more. During last two decades, this cycle of misery has been continuing. Now, the situation is such that many people are drifting away from farming.

Dibakar Naik, the lead author of the study, asserts the situation can be combated. A major solution advocated by him is the restriction of rice production to just 35 lakh hectares of land, from the present 45 lakh hecatres. According to him, at least four to five lakh hectares should be diverted to non-rice and horticultural crops. Another four to five lakh hectares should be used for growing fodder; this will encourage marginal/small farmers to opt for dairy farming and thus generate employment to the tune of 25 million person days. It may also reduce the problem of migration, as the purchasing power of farmers would increase.

Shakti Padhi, an agriculture expert from Bhubaneswar-based research organisation Nabakrushna Choudhury Centre for Development Studies, however disagrees. Rice cultivation, according to him, is a must to ensure local food security. "Government must improve market infrastructure, and provide loans to farmers," he asserts.

The "worried" state government, at present, only swings into action to formulate a contingency plan whenever a calamity strikes. Uma Kant Misra, director of agriculture and food production, state government, denies that the official machinery is at fault. "We are aware of the decrease in rice productivity, and are trying to introduce new varieties of cash crops in rainfed areas to strengthen the 'coffer' of farmers," she states nonchalantly. If these promises are not fulfilled, as is always the case , then marginal farmers would suffer the most.

AS PRODUCTIVITY DECLINES...
The majority of farmers are hardest hit
Crops 1980-1981 to 1989-1990 1990-1991 to 1999-2000
Area Production Yield Area Production Yield
Rice 0.41 3.98 3.56 0.05 -1.94 -1.99
Pulses 1.87 1.90 0.05 -4.30 -8.40 -4.29
Oilseeds 4.36 5.95 1.51 -4.49 -8.10 -3.78

Growth rate (all figures in percentage)

Operational holdings in Orissa, 1995-1996
Marginal farmers (Below 1.0 hectare) *2,145,245
Small (1.0 to 2.0 hectares) 1,106,337
Semi Medium farmers (2.0 to 4.0 hectares) 543,791
Medium (4.0-10 hectares) 155,921
Large (10 and above hectares) 15,195
*Number of farmers
Source: Dibakar Naik et al 2003, Inter-district disparities in agricultural growth, agricultural productivity and poverty with special reference to food security in Orissa in the era of liberalisation

Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.