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An Insight into How to Boost Farming in AP

In the Rayalaseema region, only about one-third of crops are irrigated, with the rest dependent on rain-fed cultivation, which is susceptible to the vagaries of the weather. Tanks are an important source of water for the rural economy, but – as in other areas – an explosion of well irrigation has reduced the surface runoff into these tanks.
 
The biggest victims are poor, small, marginal farmers, who depend on tanks for providing supplementary irrigation for their kharif crop. In this article, we take references from a research paper by Dr Dinesh Kumar, Executive Director of the Institute for Resource Analysis and Policy (IRAP), Hyderabad, and examine policies to cut water scarcity and improve agriculture performance in Andhra Pradesh. 
 
There are major water transfer projects being implemented. This approach – moving surplus water into the tanks, so that they are full – ensures farmers can continue crop production when the tanks do not receive inflows.
 
According to one estimate, the additional storage space available during a drought year is about 1,700 million cubic metres. The annualized cost of the infrastructure and drainage required to fill the tanks is estimated to be about Rs. 4,500 per ha, plus another Rs. 2,000 for annual operation and maintenance of the system.
 
Assuming that the additional water will be used to irrigate around 65,000 hectares of under-paddy cultivated during winter, the overall annualized cost will be Rs. 43.2 crore. Farmers will make more: the annual incremental net return is estimated to be about Rs. 9,000 per hectare.
 
There would be further indirect benefits from energy savings because farmers wouldn’t need to pump groundwater, and from the incremental return from the increase in the yield of wells and consequent expansion in the area served, and more intensive watering of irrigated crops. These benefits together add up to Rs. 15,000 per hectare per year, and the total annual benefits will be Rs. 159.2 crore.
 
This means that every rupee spent on the policy in Andhra Pra-desh would generate benefits worth nearly four rupees. Dr Kumar also examines investment in drip irrigation and mulching of high value crops, which would generate about five rupees.
These are all respectable returns. But research by agricultural economist Dr Surabhi Mittal, Independent Consultant and Non-Resident Fellow, Tata-Cornell Institute for Agriculture & Nutrition (TCI), Technical Assistance and Research for India Nutrition & Agriculture (TARINA), suggests another approach may help farmers a lot more.
 
Solutions to boost farm incomes, productivity
 
She looks at various methods of improving farm productivity and farmer income, including improving farm mechanization through custom hiring services; improving ex-tension services through the use of modern ICT tools; focusing on improving soil health; and improving the availa-bility of certified seeds.
 
In India, farm-saved seed from previous crops remains the most prominent source of seed, year after year, accounting for nearly three-quarters of all seed usage. This means low crop productivity as optimal yield potential is a function of quality of seeds used.
Although a lot of improved varieties of seeds have been released for cultivation, their full impact has not been realized because of poor adoption rates and poor seed replacement rates.
 
The solution involves spending money on producing more qual-ity seeds (for all the major crops in each state) and promoting this to farmers. The price-tag adds up to around Rs. 400 crores. This will lead to better crop yields, increased production, and higher incomes.
 
After reviewing the best evidence, the researcher suggests yield gains of 10% can reasonably be expected with improved seed replacement rates. Even with this highly conservative assumption, the investment has huge pay-offs: each rupee spent will have benefits to Andhra Pradesh worth around 15-times the costs.
 
These are phenomenal benefits and highlight the need to prioritize policies that will achieve the most for farmers.
 

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