Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Hope takes root in Kerala

S Remadevi/ Kochi

Water and soil conservation efforts have made agriculture sustainable in Kerala. initiative was supported by NABARD.

Agriculture sector in Kerala is reeling under severe crisis. The plantation sector has witnessed unprecedented cases of farmers' suicides in the last five years.
The state with two third of its net sown area under plantation crops is a major producer of cash crops like pepper, rubber, cashew, cardamom, ginger and coconut, in the country. These crops are mainly grown in the undulating midlands and steep highlands of western ghat region of the State. Area identified as high ranges ie 1000M above MSL, account for 5.15 lakh ha. and are mainly spread over in Wayanad, Palakkad and Idukki districts forming 16 percent of the total area. High land areas i.e. 75 M above MSL are estimated to be about 18.71 lakh ha. The production of major crops like coconut, arecanut, pepper, cardamom, cashew, tea, coffee etc. showed wide variation during the last four decades for a variety of reasons such as drought, diseases etc.
The biophysical resources influencing agricultural productivity are land, soil and water. Denudational nature of the major portion of terrain leads to high soil erosion and surface runoff. Weathered and transported soils have low levels of plant nutrients indicated by low pH and base saturation.
The water availability indicators show water deficiency for most of the crops during mundakan and puncha seasons (August to May).
These constraints result in lowering of production of the crops and also sustainability. The constraints of the biophysical resources can be overcome to a considerable extent by adopting soil and water conservation measures on watershed basis.
Considering the importance of soil and water conservation for bringing about improvements in production and productivity as also for maintaining sustainability of agriculture, National Bank for Watershed Development Programmes in Kerala Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) undertook the task of providing financial assistance for soil and water conservation projects under Rural Infrastructure Development (RIDF).
In all 112 projects with RIDF assistance of Rs.28.69 crore have been sanctioned under RIDF, with first three tranche, the details of which are indicated below.
Under RIDF-I, 40 projects were assisted, with a total outlay of Rs.1013.159 lakh and RIDF assistance of Rs.500.97 lakh. The details of sanction are given in.
A techno economic evaluation study of the projects was taken up with objectives of understanding the impediments in implementation and to collect empirical evidences on the impact of the investments.
Of the forty soil and water conservation projects sanctioned, thirty-seven projects have been completed and three projects have been dropped.
The project components include mechanical measures like contour bunds, earthen bunds, terraces, check dam, water harvesting structures and retaining wall as well agronomic measures like agrostological, agro-forestry etc.
Two projects each were selected at random from Kasargod, Idukki and Thiruvananthapuram and one from Wayanad. A total of seven projects were brought under the study. In the absence of data on sedimentation rate, run-off velocity, ground water fluctuation etc. interview with the farmers using structure questionnaire was resorted to capture the impact of soil and water conservation measures.
Twenty respondents were selected at random from each of the watersheds covering 140 respondents. The comparison has been made with the pre and post development situations.
The State Soil Conservation unit under Agriculture Department is the implementing agency for all the projects. The soil conservation works are implemented through field level units of the department, viz., soil conservation unit and overseer unit. The common works like drainage line treatment retaining wall, check dam. WHS etc are implemented by the Beneficiary Committee constituted for the purpose. Works in individual fields are carried out by skilled labour employed either by the beneficiary or by the beneficiary committee.
Adoption of soil and water conservation mearures leads to better use of land, which is measured in terms cropping intensity. Cropping intensity for the various scheme areas before and after implementation of the schemes are indicated. As the cropping system in the area of study are of a mixed nature estimation of cropping intensity has been made based on the area occupied by each crop on the basis of standard crop stand recommended by the package of practice of Kerala Agriculture University.
The cropping intensity has improved during post implementation period in all the scheme areas. The largest improvement in cropping intensity is recorded in Kalvery Mount, followed by Rajamudy at 105 and 98 per cent, respectively. This is due mainly to the fact that the cult arable area in both the watershed were not put to use before taking up conservation measures. Both these schemes are in Idukki district.
The next highest improvement was recorded at Pallickal scheme in Thiruvanthapuram district at 45%.
The major effect of soil and water conservation measures is reflected in improvements to productivity of crops. The changes in productivity of the major crops in the scheme areas was estimated on a per hectare basis as mono cropping does not exist in any of the scheme areas. The productivity change for the major crops.
There have been positive changes in productivity for all crops. The highest improvement in productivity has been recorded by Tea at 121 per cent in Rajamudy followed by cardamom at 107 per cent in Kalvery Mount.
The economic effect of soil and water conservation measures was estimated by valuating the incremental production in the different scheme areas at the farm gate prices indicated by the respondents.
The prices of all the commodities remained more or less the same in the areas. Based on the price realized by the respondents, the net incremental income has been worked out. Incidentally it was noted that the cost of maintenance remained the same during the pre and post development periods.
The highest incremental income per hectare was recorded at Mangalassery scheme, which had predominance of coffee and pepper, which are high value crops. The incremental income from Karivedakam where rubber and coconut occupy substantial area, was found to be the next highest at Rs.20,500. Here it was observed that productivity of most the crops shown substantial gains. The lowest income per hectare was observed in Rajamudy scheme area of Idukki district. The incremental income at Chemmattanchal of Kasargod and Pallickal of Thiruvannathapuram was above Rs.13000. Kalvery Mount Rs.12100 and Arivippuram Rs.19400.
The incremental income generated in all the scheme areas has been substantially high due to better soil and water conservation.
Based on the actual cost of works and the estimates of incremental income generated, the Financial rate of return and the Economic rate of return for the scheme were worked out.
The Financial and economic rates of return for the various schemes taken up for study was above 25 per cent. For four schemes viz. Karivedakam, Mangalassery, Arivippuram and Pallickal it was morethan 100 per cent.

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