Farmers in the Anantapur district continue to leave agriculture at an alarming rate with minor exceptions in the last decade, if the statistics of groundnut seed distribution is anything to go by.
The district was once the highest producer of groundnut with seven lakh farmers cultivating it in more than seven lakh hectares a decade ago.
Today, a little more than 70,000 hectares is under cultivation. And most of the crop, apparently, is withering away though the government says crop in only 7,300 acres is under ‘stress’.
According to official figures, more than 3.4 lakh farmers seem to have left agriculture for good while the quantum of seed distributed has gone down by over 50% — 3.44 lakh quintals — to today’s 3.32 lakh quintals.
From a high of 5.69 lakh quintals being distributed and 6.32 lakh farmers benefiting in 2009, it went to a low of just over 1.24 lakh quintals and 1.39 lakh farmers in 2014.
After slowly regaining some ground in 2015 and 2016, backed by the government’s promise of farm loan waiver and the ambitious promise of driving away drought by ensuring a successful crop in every acre through a combination of farm ponds and rain guns, the numbers have started to dwindle again.
From the dismal lows of 2014, seed distribution rose by 73.98% (year on year) and the number of beneficiaries by 71.75% in 2015. The next year too registered a 43.6% and 37.5% increase in the quantum of seed distributed and beneficiaries respectively.
However, it fell to a 7.1% growth (year on year over 2016) to 3.32 lakh quintals seed distributed and registered a negative growth rate of 17.72% in the number of beneficiaries this year.
Given the fact that the acreage of alternative crops — castor, cotton and others —including that of perennial crops (mostly horticulture) hasn’t crossed the 70,000-hectare mark in any of the past years, it can safely be assumed that well over at least five lakh farmers are not taking to agriculture at all and around five lakh hectares are being left fallow for the better part of the last decade.
“I have left 15 of my 19 acres fallow this year out. Last year, I cultivated groundnut in the entire area and faced utter failure and debts. So, I shifted to tomato in four acres as it too has fluctuating fortunes at best,” said Pulla Reddy, a farmer from the Anantapur rural mandal.
Several lakhs of farmers seem to have made similar choices. The rise in the migration of people every year is but mirroring the grave crisis in the agrarian sector.
“Several farmers are choosing to move away from agriculture as it has become an experiment year after year. Confidence needs to be instilled in the farmers by bringing water for irrigation usage is the only answer,” Peddireddy of the Andhra Pradesh Rythu Sangham told The Hindu.