Krishnagiri: S. Mallika, 27, is expecting a windfall this year. The farmer from Kurumpatti village in Tamil Nadu’s Krishnagiri district owns a 5 acre tract, which has been yielding an annual income of Rs50,000 for her family—until now.
This year, Mallika is confident her earning would be six times more—Rs3 lakh—and that too from just 1,000 sq. m. Ask her how, and she credits it to the National Horticulture Mission (NHM), a Central government scheme to to help farmers use advanced horticultural techniques to boost their yields. “My father told me about this,” said Mallika. “The country is progressing. Even daily wage labourers use cellphones these days. I thought why should we stay behind?”
Under the scheme, the government offers subsidies and other assistance to farmers to set up small nurseries and gardens, where they can grow fruits, vegetables, spices, flowers, aromatic plants and other crops in controlled environments.
One of its initiatives is providing a 50% subsidy to farmers to take up polyhouse farming. Farmers construct a metal structure covered with sheets of polythene, which allows them to control temperature and the moisture inside and enables higher yields throughout the year.
Mallika constructed her greenhouse, or polyhouse, at a cost of Rs6.5 lakh, half of which came as a government subsidy and the other half as a loan for a seven-year period. With her extra income, she hopes to build another polyhouse soon.
As more and more farmers such as Mallika show a willingness to adopt modern techniques, nearly 2,500ha have been brought under the NHM in Krishnagiri this fiscal year at a cost of Rs5.26 crore. Even though this is just about half the targeted 4,831ha for the year, it has made Krishnagiri the most successful NHM district in Tamil Nadu. State agricultural officials said they would cover the rest of the area before the end of March.
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NHM, launched in 2005-06, also includes rehabilitation of existing tissue culture units, vegetable seed production, building seed infrastructure for handling, storing and packaging of seeds, rejuvenation of unproductive plantations and setting up of water sources.
Besides the subsidy, farmers can avail both pre- and post-harvesting assistance through nationalized banks and financial institutions such as National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, Small Industries Development Bank of India and IDBI Bank Ltd.
Bumper harvest: S. Mallika, a farmer from Kurumpatti, Tamil Nadu, tends to her marigold plants at the greenhouse that she set up with assistance from the National Horticulture Mission. Pratap Vinayagam/Mint
Of the Rs1,100 crore earmarked for the scheme in 2009-10, Tamil Nadu’s share is Rs96 crore. The Centre will contribute 85% of the outlay, while the states will contribute the rest.
Two state horticultural farms in Krishnagiri offer technical know-how to farmers and provide them good quality seedlings. In addition, the regional research station of Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, at Paiyur, trains farmers in modern methods of crop propagation.
The campus houses a model nursery of 4ha, set up through NHM subsidy, for selling seeds to farmers at reasonable rates. NHM also offers subsidies to individuals who set up such nurseries and sell seedlings to other farmers at rates determined by the government.
“This district is a unique one...it has the privilege of equi-distribution of rainfall in both the seasons—both the south-west monsoon as well as the north-west monsoon,” said A.K. Mani, professor and head of Paiyur research station. “Because of this, both the annual and perennial crops enjoy a conducive environment here.”
NHM has helped Krishnagiri boost its already formidable name as a producer of Alphonso and Banglora mangoes. The Krishnagiri belt has 40,000ha under mango cultivation and houses 50 pulp processing units, according to G. Venkatasamy, managing director of Amirtham Agro Industries Pvt. Ltd, who owns one of these units.
Thanks to the scheme, he said, more land has been brought under mango cultivation, giving pulp processing units a pricing advantage. They earlier paid Rs20,000-25,000 a tonne to get mangoes from Maharashtra and Karnataka, but with increased local production, they now pay Rs15,000-20,000 a tonne.
Venkatasamy said the quality of mangoes has also improved. “A lot of work is being done in terms of extension (of area for mango cultivation under NHM),” he said. “I think it is high time they went for more research on developing off-season and on-season mangoes.”
The district is fast catching up on many other crops as well, including rose, jasmine, capsicum, tomato and cocoa. In 2007, Cadbury India Ltd signed a memorandum of understanding with Tamil Nadu’s department of horticulture to enhance cocoa production with features such as buy-back guarantee and minimum support price.
There is a catch, however. The growing impact of the Central government’s flagship rural scheme, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Generation Act (NREGA), is eating into the workforce available for NHM. Under NREGA, at least one member of every rural household ready to perform unskilled labour is promised 100 days of work at minimum wages every year.
“Nobody wants to labour under the hot sun in the fields—instead, they choose to take up jobs under the government scheme (NREGA),” said V. Govindan, a local farmer who has been growing and selling jasmine for 40 years. “They just sleep under the shades of trees, collect Rs100 and go back home. This way, agriculture would be destroyed.” He wants the government to scrap NREGA. While that is unlikely, farmers such as Govindan can expect more support from the government under NHM. Atanu Purkayastha, director of NHM, has asked principal secretaries to come up with state-specific plans for the scheme to make it more useful.
“In any such programme, the devil lies in its execution. In NHM also, it has to be seen as to how much of its benefits are percolating to farmers across geographical regions and income levels,” said Rajesh Srivastava, chairman and managing director, Rabo Equity Advisors Pvt. Ltd.
He also cautioned that the shift towards horticulture should not happen at the cost of wheat and rice cultivation as this would lead to a shortage of foodgrains.
Sangeeta Singh contributed to this story.