Tribal farmers of the Attappady hills are up in arms against the Agriculture Department which, they allege, has been denying them any assistance, unlike in the case of other farmers in the area.
Balan, a tribal farmer of Dondugatti hamlet at Paloor in Pudur grama panchayat, who has six acres of farmland, says the department has not given him any assistance.
“Last year, I had cultivated cotton and banana. It was destroyed in the drought. But not a single paisa was given as compensation. Now, I have no money to take up cultivation,” he says.
Balan says there is a government scheme to prepare the land for cultivation. The farmers wanted it to be done before the monsoon. But the Agriculture Department sent the tractor only after the monsoon. For ploughing three acres of land, they charged Rs.2,850. “Since the ploughing was done after rains, I could not sow the seeds and the whole exercise has gone waste,” he says.
The Agriculture Department, he says, is not making available the seeds of ragi, chama (a kind of millet), cotton, maize and so on. So, the farmers have to purchase these from private parties.
The department charges only Rs.450 for half a kilo of ragi, but private parties ask for Rs.2,700. “So we have to take loans from private financiers at exorbitant interest rates to buy seed, fertilizer, pesticides and so on, though there are government schemes to provide it,” he says.
Another tribal farmer Babu says his family got back 10 acres of alienated land following a High Court order last year. “But we have no money to take up cultivation on this land. We had approached the Agriculture Department, but they did not give any assistance. So, we have taken loans from private financiers at high interest rates to cultivate cotton and vegetables in a portion of the land,” he says.
K. Kumar of Thampu, a tribal organisation, says that in Attappady, agriculture is rain fed owing to the hilly terrain. Irrigation is possible only on the riverbanks. But this problem is not understood by the planners, and they spend a large sum of money on irrigation projects.
He says that to ensure the food security of the tribal people, who suffer from starvation, malnutrition, and anaemia, urgent steps are required to bring them back to traditional agriculture that meets their food requirements. But this aspect is missing in most of the Attappady packages announced by the government.
A study by the Centre for Development Studies some time ago had warned the government against the “destruction of traditional tribal agriculture that ensured their food security.”
It said “the impact of agriculture development programmes on the tribal population was practically nil, but resulted in destroying their traditional agriculture. More than the tribal population, settlers were the beneficiaries of the agriculture programmes.”