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Commercial crops edging out food grains in Karnataka

Between 2005 and 2021, jowar, ragi and paddy lost nearly 7.77 lakh hectares (ha), 1.58 lakh ha and 44,000 ha respectively
Last Updated : 13 December 2022, 02:34 IST
Last Updated : 13 December 2022, 02:34 IST
Last Updated : 13 December 2022, 02:34 IST
Last Updated : 13 December 2022, 02:34 IST

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Paddy, jowar and ragi, the staple food grains of Karnataka, are slowly losing ground to commercial crops like maize, areca and cotton.

Between 2005 and 2021, jowar, ragi and paddy lost nearly 7.77 lakh hectares (ha), 1.58 lakh ha and 44,000 ha respectively. The area under maize cultivation has expanded from 9.36 lakh ha to 17.13 lakh ha in the last 15 years, according to the State Department of Economics and Statistics.

The water-guzzling areca, which was earlier cultivated in the Malnad region, is now grown in central and south Karnataka, even in semi-arid lands. Between 2005 and the last agriculture calendar year, its cultivated area has grown by nearly 200 per cent, from 1.87 lakh ha to 5.51 lakh ha.

The shrinking land for essential crops, according to Prakash Kammardi, former chairman of Karnataka Agricultural Prices Commission, is worrying as it directly affects the availability of food.

Agriculture scientist Sheshagiri Gubbi says the majority of farmers are shifting to crops like maize, soybean, cotton and areca because they are commercially viable and have an international market.

While maize has little food value for humans, farmers are cultivating it on huge tracts of land as it has demand as raw material for poultry feed. Paddy, ragi, jowar and millets were earlier grown on large expanses of land due to favourable climatic conditions and soil, he said.

Tur dal is the only essential food crop that has seen an increase in the area of its cultivation, from 6 lakh ha to 16.31 lakh ha in this period. This year (2022-23), however, the cultivated area under tur dal in the Kalyana Karnataka region, called the tur bowl of the state, has come down to 4.7 lakh ha.

Agricultural lands

In this period, land under agriculture and horticulture increased by 11.38 lakh hectares, from 111.54 lakh ha in 2005-06 to 122.92 lakh ha in 2020-21.

Sources in the department told DH that the increase in total cultivable area in Karnataka is due to the expansion of irrigation canals, conversion of barren and social forestry areas into agricultural lands.

“A worrying sign is that oil-seed crops and pulses, which were grown in abundance in the black soil, are making way for maize,” Sheshagiri said.

According to data, oil seeds like groundnut and sunflower witnessed a decline in cultivated area compared to the commercially sought-after soybean. The 10.4 lakh ha and 14.27 lakh ha of land under groundnut and sunflower in 2005-06, shrunk to 7 lakh ha and 1.22 lakh ha respectively. Soybean cultivation, on the other hand, increased from 1.33 lakh hectares to 3.10 lakh ha in the period.

Citing the labour-intensive nature of oil seed cultivation, P Nagaraju of All India Co-ordinated Research on Groundnut, University of Agriculture Sciences, Dharwad, says, “There is no proper machinery to sow or harvest them.”

The cost of oil seeds is also high. Farmers also face uncertainty from oil-mill owners who seek a specific quality of seeds, contributing to their decline.

To mitigate these hurdles, Dr Nagaraju asked for a government policy, particularly with regard to the minimum support price offered to oil seeds.

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Published 12 December 2022, 19:33 IST

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