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Monday, Jun 20, 2005
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World Bank report lays emphasis on reforms to revitalise agriculture in TN
Chennai , June 19
THREE factors that have a telling impact on policy makers' efforts in the State to revitalise agriculture are: water scarcity, large share of water-intensive crops, rice and sugar, in irrigated lands and the dominance of small and marginal farmers in agriculture production, according to the World Bank.
Even with an efficient water management system to deal with the scarce water resource, it would still have to diversify its agriculture production to high-value and less-water-demanding crops. But this would call for a complete package of reforms, the World Bank has said in a report entitled `Economic growth and poverty alleviation in Tamil Nadu.'
The report is a synthesis of five policy notes - these cover fiscal reforms and sustainability, improving investment climate, agriculture development, governance challenges and poverty profile - prepared in collaboration with the State Government to support its reform programme between 2002 and 2004.
On the water situation, the report points out that the State is among the driest with 900 cu. m. of water per head against 2,200 cu m for all of India. Agriculture is dependent on a system of canals that supply water to 30 per cent of irrigated lands, wells 49 per cent and tanks 21 per cent. Rain fed agriculture accounts for 46 per cent of the net sown area of 5.5 million hectares.
Rice and sugar account for about 40 per cent of the gross cropped area and 70 per cent of the irrigated area. Pulses account for 18 per cent of the cropped area, millet 11 per cent, both of which are grown on non-irrigated land and groundnuts, which requires less water, 10 per cent.
The average size of individually held farms is about 0.91 hectares with three-quarters of farms smaller than a hectare against the average Indian farm size of 1.41 hectares.
Three main issues to address water management are the fragmentation and lack of coordination between different agencies, distorted pricing and the decline in public investments in irrigation structures.
Priority to fund and maintain surface irrigations systems has led to their deterioration.
These should be tackled through a State-wide resource management strategy that examines the competing uses of water and provides for proper allocation to various users. Increase in electricity charge would have little effect on overall rice production and market prices, since only 10 per cent of rice area uses well water for irrigation, but a major effect on sugar cane production.
The World Bank report suggests that Tamil Nadu could carry out a small experiment of providing a community of farmers with the best facilities they need, assure them of a minimum of their present income levels and ask them to pay for power and examine the effect on income.
To diversify agriculture with more focus on high-value and less water-intensive crops, the Government should reform the extension system, facilitate efficient markets, develop a rural credit market and an insurance and safety net programme to cushion farmers against the risk of diversification and provide a package to improve incomes with gradual adjustment of input pricing.
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