To mitigate the effects of the drought Karnataka is reeling under, the state government is forcing farmers in the Cauvery command area to opt for ragi or other millets cultivation over their preference for paddy or sugarcane. It might seem illiberal of the government to dictate crop choice in the manner it is doing , but the move is a good one for the long-term water security of the state. Managing water scarcity has become seminal for the state that is at the threshold of its fourth consecutive drought year. Against such a backdrop, pushing drought-tolerant millets over water-intensive crops like sugarcane and paddy makes eminent sense. To stabilise farm income and have enough fodder stock, the state has stopped the sale of paddy sees in many districts and imposed caps on availability in districts like Mysuru and Chamrajnagar. The states has only made 37,662 quintals of paddy seed available by kharif 2017 as compared with 134,315 quintals last year. To be sure, the farmer can still procure paddy seeds from his peers or from private seed sellers. But, the hope is that the state government, with Rs 150 crore invested in seed subsidies, buybacks and promotions to position ragi not just as a drought-tolerant but also a nutritional crop, the millet will resonate with the farmers.
As a Mint report notes, getting entire districts to switch to millets has been a mammoth ask—the state had to procure 11,000 quintals of ragi, over and above the kharif season availability of 34,000 quintals. Other drought tolerant and less water requiring crops—maize, pulses and oilseeds—are also being introduced into the mix. With farmers already unhappy with the caps on release of Cauvery—thanks to the legal wrangle over water-sharing with Tamil Nadu—selling ragi cultivation is a hard proposition. Farmers claim that the returns from paddy and sugarcane are much higher—area under ragi had already fallen from 7.87 lakh hectares in 2010-11 to 6.77 lakh ha in 2015-16. While pushing ragi seems like a just solution, the fact is that forcing farmers to swallow the crop is not going to work; the state must look at incentivising it and possibly even making it a part of the public distribution system.