Seed crisis

AP farmers feel the crunch

By N Venugopal Rao
Published: Thursday 31 July 2003

Agitation takes bloody turn<sc (Credit: THE HINDU)on june 25, the police opened fire on a crowd of restive farmers desperate to purchase subsidised maize seeds from a distribution centre in Andhra Pradesh's (ap) Ranga Reddy district. The toll: one farmer dead and more than 100 injured. Even before protests against the police action had died down, Warangal witnessed violence over the supply of fake seeds. These are not isolated incidents. Farmers in the entire Telangana region have begun to agitate against the state's failure to deliver on its promise of adequate seed supply and attempts by traders to sell spurious seeds.

The farmers are saddled with heavy debts following three consecutive droughts. This explains the scramble for seeds for the winter crop despite a dismal monsoon. The ap government, which had grandiloquently announced the supply of 0.15 million tonnes of dirt-cheap quality seeds at 430 outlets across the state, has been unable to cope with the huge demand. For the farming community, the resultant seed shortage is the last straw. To be sure, seed production in ap has dropped drastically due to the extended dry spells. In fact, ap has had to import seeds from other states to overcome the scarcity. But officials in the agriculture department concede that even now the demand-supply gap is wide.

For instance, stocks of maize seeds have run short. Though the ap government wanted to make available 3,900 tonnes, it could procure just 1,000 tonnes and supply only 447.5 tonnes.

In what has proved to be a double whammy for farmers, several traders have made a killing by selling fake seeds. The problem became so widespread that in the first week of June the state government decided to use mobile squads and conduct raids to stem it. But illegal trade continues in districts like Warangal and Karimnagar.

Meanwhile, ap chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu has announced a slew of damage control measures. "We are procuring 11.5 lakh tonnes of seeds and distributing them through a ration system," he revealed, adding that the state government has decided to establish two lakh rythu mitra (farmers' friends) groups and identify agricultural experts to assist the community.

The reality is that more than 800 farmers have committed suicide in ap over the past two years. Unless the state government stops reneging on its assurances and provides immediate succour to farmers, they would continue hurtling towards a dead end.

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