What's cooking in Isloor's paddy fields?

What's cooking in Isloor's paddy fields?

What's cooking in Isloor's paddy fields?

The conversion of paddy fields into residential plots is happening at an alarming rate in Sirsi’s villages. Farmers have many reasons like labour scarcity, erratic rainfall and market uncertainties, to do so. Seema S Hegde & Raghunandan S Hegde visit Isloor to understand the situation.

During a recent discussion on agriculture with a farmer, an important fact came to our notice. That cultivating paddy is so expensive that buying rice works out cheaper! The impression usually is that a paddy cultivator earns at least a marginal profit.

 The fact that a paddy cultivator cannot even recover his production cost made us think. If farmers gradually reduce the land under paddy and at last stop paddy cultivation in the future, what would be the resultant situation? 

A day would also come when not only the paddy cultivators but, many other farmers produce paddy only to meet household needs because there is no profit in selling. A paddy cultivator in recent years has no incentives to continue cultivating it. Instead he sells off the paddy fields for what he thinks is a good price, to a builder who ultimately converts the paddy fields into residential plots and resells it at a price many times higher than what he paid to the farmer.

The conversion of paddy fields into residential plots is happening at an alarming rate in the villages around Sirsi (one of the taluks of Uttara Kannada district) in the State. For instance, Isloor is a village located eight kilometres from Sirsi town. The village has a population of about 1000, with a cultivated area of nearly 60 ha, out of which 60-70% is under paddy, a major crop in the village.  

A drive  through Isloor on the way to Sirsi is a sight for sore eyes. You can feast your eyes on paddy fields during monsoon, and maize, sunhemp and other fodder crops during summer. 

The paddy fields in Isloor are located adjacent to a tank from where River Dharma originates and is a good water source throughout the year due to which farmers of Isloor get two yields per year.

Enter the earthmovers

During our visit in the monsoon of 2011, the paddy fields were green as usual and the view was a visual treat. But during our last visit in the summer of this year, we saw an earthmover working on those fields. Within a week’s time, a few paddy fields were almost ready as residential plots!

As we started discussing this matter among other farmers, we came to know that the farmers who sell off their lands do not always sell because of monetary need. There are multiple factors contributing to it including labour scarcity, climate change and erratic rainfall, market uncertainties, poor infrastructure facilities, lack of government incentives, and lack of recognition. 

Are there not any ways to make agriculture attractive for a farmer? Of course there are. But since agriculture has been neglected for many years and entangled with many problems, immediate repair is a possibility with difficulty. To overcome the problem of labour scarcity, mechanisation seems to be the simplest solution but, it is not.

 Mechanisation is feasible only if the size of landholdings is large. In a village like Isloor where the land is fragmented and sub-divided into number of holdings among family members, mech­an­isation is hardly possible. 

The other solution, consolidation of fragmented holdings, is impossible because many holdings are under dispute due to division of family property. Moreover mechanisation is not affordable to the farmers who are very poor and already in debt trap.

What’s the way out?

At present agriculture is trapped in a vicious circle of labour scarcity-low productivity-land selling-labour migration-social problems i.e, an agriculture worker would prefer to stay in village and work in the fields if he earns a wage that is almost equal to what a worker in the town earns.

 But a farmer cannot pay adequate wages and retain labourers due his poor financial condition. There is a need to break this vicious circle to find a way out.
 Provision of loans to a farmer would not help until there is certainty about the market price for the crops grown but, provision of infrastructure like irrigation, electricity, storage facility would help.

Environmental factors like erratic rainfall, decreased groundwater level affect agricultural productivity to a great deal. These factors have to be tackled with various water conservation techniques. Isloor tank, once very beautiful, is now filled with silt. According to villagers, water bearing capacity of the tank is decreasing over the years.

 It is evident that in many villages, tanks are filled with silt, and after a while landless people encroach the silt filled area of the tank and start cultivating paddy to meet their household needs. 

The tank that is supposed to provide various ecosystem services is converted into cultivation area and at the same time, land demarcated as farmland from ages is converted into residential plots.

What is happening in Isloor would soon happen in many other villages because the farmer who feeds the nation many times goes to bed on empty stomach!