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Saturday, January 13, 2001

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Agri-Business | Next


AP farmers find it hard to keep off tobacco

Our Bureau

GUNTUR, Jan. 12

THE villages in Guntur district, known for tobacco cultivation for the past 40 to 50 years, wear a desolate look, as the barns and curing furnaces remain empty and idle due to the crop holiday declared this season in response to the glut and consequent c risis in the market.

Farmers who have switched over to alternative crops such as black gram, red gram, medicinal plants and maize, express different opinions on the net returns offered by these crops in comparison with tobacco. Most of them would like to revert to tobacco, g iven a chance.

``Tobacco cultivation has a charm of its own. Giving up tobacco cultivation is as difficult as giving up smoking and the farmer cannot be easily weaned away,'' according to Dr Y. Sivaji, President of the Virginia Tobacco Growers' Association, who spearhe aded the movement for a crop holiday.

``But the market realities cannot be wished away and there would have to be a drastic reduction in crop size even in the years to come.''

Farmers who have switched over to black gram are happy in some of the villages such as Neerukonda, because the climate has been conducive and the rates are currently ruling above Rs 2,500 per quintal.

``But we cannot say that black gram is a viable alternative to tobacco, as the climate is not kind every year and there are no assured yields or returns. Tobacco, in fact, is the alternative to most other crops, as the yields are assured, though not the rates,'' according to Mr M. Chalapathi Rao, former sarpanch.

Many other farmers express the same opinion that tobacco is a sturdy crop, not susceptible to pest attacks, and that it can be planted as late as in December after all other options have been exhausted. Therefore, it is not an easy task to find an altern ative crop to tobacco.

``The techniques of cultivation have been perfected over a period of half-a-century and the farmers are at home with the crop, even though the cost of cultivation is high and the trade does often resort to all sorts of tricks to depress prices,'' accordi ng to Dr M. S. S. Koteswara Rao, former Minister, who himself used to cultivate tobacco.

Dr Koteswara Rao opines that the trade has driven the farmer to the extreme step of forgoing the crop for a season. ``More than the farmer, the farm workers are suffering in the villages as no other crop generates as much employment. There will be far-re aching social changes, of course, if these villages give up tobacco cultivation. However, the need for strict crop regulation cannot be overstated,'' he said.

Mr K. Chennakesava Rao, another farmer, is quite vocal in demanding that the Tobacco Board take urgent steps to deregister the non-functional barns, amounting to 15,000, of the total 45,000 in the State.

``This stern step will limit the crop size to a manageable 100 million kg or so. There would not be any excess crop and the rates will be remunerative,'' he said.

He alleges that the Tobacco Board officials are perpetuating the system ``for reasons best known to them''. He has also urged the Government to provide compensation to farmers who had invested heavily in construction of barns to give up tobacco cultivati on.

``Each farmer has invested more than Rs 1 lakh on the barn and Rs 50,000 or so on the other infrastructure. It is an idle investment this year and the future is also not certain. The farmer should be enabled to make an exit out of it,'' Mr Rao said.

Some of the enterprising farmers, who have opted for medicinal plants such as `Kasturi Benda', are finding it difficult to market the crop.

``Especially, for growing medicinal plants, the farmers are finding it difficult to get the seed and there is no buy-back arrangement. Therefore, there is no large-scale cultivation of such crops,'' according to Mr D. Rama Rao.

The farmers of Velagapudi village who have cultivated paddy in the upland areas in place of tobacco are regretting, as there is a glut in the market and there are no takers for the crop. Some farmers have taken up cultivation of burley tobacco instead of Virginia tobacco and a few others have opted for jute.

Long-term measures, such as taking up of lift irrigation projects, were required to reduce tobacco crop size and the marketing facilities for the other crops would have to be improved, Dr Sivaji said.

``Right now, because of excess production, the farmer is at the mercy of the trade. Crop holiday is the right measure to correct the imbalance and the farmers, by remaining united, have shown to the trade that they cannot be taken for granted.''

Related links:
Virginia tobacco growers favour crop holiday
Tobacco Board sticks to crop holiday
`Most tobacco farmers favour crop holiday'

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