Standing in his paddy field that glistened in the afternoon sun,farmer Gouranga Rana had his worries: What would happen to his bumper harvest? Would he be able to sell it at the minimum support price announced by the state government? But the FCI godown was already full.
These are concerns any farmer would have. What makes Ranas problemand that of others in Bandigaon village in Jaypatna blocka happy one is that his village is part of Kalahandi,once a name that stood for hunger in one of the countrys most deprived regions. Now,as the Union Agriculture Ministry announced last month,Kalahandi ranks among the top 25 rice-producing districts of India.
Till the early 2000s,starvation deaths and distress migration were the norm here,with reports of families in distress selling off their children. One of the cases that made headlines was in 1985,when a 14-year-old tribal girl,Bonita,was sold by her sister-in-law,Phanas Punji,for Rs 40 so that she could feed her two starving children. Shocked,then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi visited the district and announced a development package called the KBK (Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput) Development Scheme for the district. Like all government packages,this scheme was forgotten as funds dried up.
The change came in the form of the Upper Indravati Multipurpose Project,first conceived of in 1987-88. Since 2000,water from the project has reached six of the 13 blocks of Kalahandi,leaving in its wake green fields that this district could once only dream of. Of Kalahandis cultivated area of 1.9 lakh hectares,the project irrigates over 76,400 hectares. There are plans to extend the project to cover an additional 6,000 hectares in Golamunda block.
Kalahandi farmers now have two crop seasons every year. Its an unbelievable change. Nothing short of a miracle, says Orissas Director of Agriculture and Food Production R Sant Gopalan who,till a few years ago,was the district magistrate of Kalahandi. It shows what government irrigation and improved farm input can do to the fortunes of a region despised for its backwardness.
Water was all that Kalahandi needed and once it came,there was no looking back, says Ashok Patnaik of local NGO Karrtabya.
Rana would know. Till about 12 years ago,Ranas father used to get a meagre harvest of 23 quintals of paddy during monsoons on their six-acre land. It was tough for us to survive then, says Rana. Last year,he harvested around 60 quintals from his land during the rabi season alone despite pest attacks. Now I have a pucca house. I can afford good education for my children, says Rana,who has studied till class XII.
Like several thousand farmers in Kalahandi,he now grapples with a problem of plenty. The three-year average of Kalahandis rice production ending 2010-11 was 4,68,000 tonnes,compared with the three-year average of 82,000 tonnes for 1998-99. The year 2012-13 saw a new high,with rice production in the kharif season touching 4.89 lakh tonnes,with rabi expected to yield another 1.85 lakh tonnes,making it a total of 6.74 lakh tonnes,a record for Kalahandi so far. The per hectare yield in Kalahandi in 2012-13 has crossed 40 quintals,compared to the modest state average of 34.88 quintals.
With lush paddy fields on either side,a drive along the leafy stretch of National Highway No. 201 as it passes through Junagarh block is a pleasure,even in the searing summer. The picture isnt any different in the blocks of Jaypatna,Koksara and Dharmagarh.
Chaitanya Nayak of Bandigaon village harvested 140 quintals of paddy on his seven acres in the last rabi season,double his produce in the previous kharif season. Ten years ago,he would have probably migrated out in search of a job. Nayak,a matriculate,says,Earlier,we would often go hungry during the rabi season. Now most of the houses have refrigerators,coolers,dish antenna and motorcycles. In the last 10 years,I dont remember seeing a dry paddy field in my area, says Nayak,who rides a Hero Passion motorcycle and does aquaculture in a small pond besides his house. With water available in plenty,all the 300-odd families in Bandigaon have taken to farming in a big way.
Kalahandis transformation into the states rice-bowl has led to reverse migration,with rich farmers from neighbouring Andhra Pradesh now putting their money in the districts fertile tracts. G Sreenu from East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh owns 20 acres in Dulukibandh village of Kalampur block and last year,reaped 1,100 quintals of paddy. He now has a three-bedroom house on the main road.
There are other visible signs of change. Last year,the first government engineering college came up in Kalahandi,one of only a dozen in the state.
District collector Govind Sethi says he has no doubt that the change is for real. Though we will have to wait for the latest Census results to validate the change,the signs are all there. More children go to school,the district has seen more progress in education. The focus has shifted from hunger to better things, he says.
Farm mechanisation has also taken off in a big way. Kalahandi has more power tillers (2,500) than any other Orissa district. With labourers in short supply,farmers are now renting expensive combined harvesters for Rs 2,300 an hour to harvest paddy.
As Kalahandis new fame has spread out,traders from Rajasthan,Tamil Nadu and Kerala are bringing in hundreds of automated paddy threshers to the district. From a handful of rice processing mills 10 years ago,now there are 82 active rice mills in Kalahandi. With so much paddy being produced,FCI,which had one paddy procurement centre in 1996,now has 50 centres in the district.
Kalahandis Congress MP Bhakta Charan Das,who is credited with getting water from Indravati to the districts fields,says the success in farm production,coupled with more government spending in the roads and health sectors,have helped Kalahandi turn the corner. It also helped that the state government pitched in with crop loans and supplied quality seeds.
The kind of poverty we had 15 years ago now seems a distant memory. Almost all the villages have good roads under government schemes. Most people have two-wheelers and every other house would have a dish antenna. Starvation is a thing of the past, says Das. Besides,there are 10-12 branches of nationalised and private banks in the blocks. Prosperous blocks like Junagarh and Jaypatna now boast of half-a-dozen automobile showrooms.
Kalahandis long wait for a railway link with the state capital got over last year with a 30-km track between Lanjigarh and the main headquarter town of Bhawanipatna. Das now hopes the Bhawanipatna-Junagarh link would be through soon,giving farmers in the Junagarh sub-division a chance to take their produce by trains and get a better deal.
Rana,the farmer in Jaypatna block,says people in Kalahandi now have the blessing of two Indras. There is Lord Indra during monsoons and then the Indravati project in the winter and summer seasons. We are indeed blessed.
Jayalal Padhi,deputy director of agriculture of Junagarh sub-division,the area which has benefited the most from the project,recounts how his friends used to tease him as Kalahandia (man from Kalahandi) during his college days in neighbouring Bolangir district. We used to be embarrassed then. Now if someone calls us Kalahandia,its a matter of pride, he says.
The Indravati project
Though initially estimated at Rs 208 crore in 1987-88,the project which dams the Indravati river and its tributaries to form a massive reservoir atop the mountains in Thuamul-Rampur block of Kalahandi,has now escalated to more than Rs 3,000 crore.
From the reservoir,water is transferred to Hati river in the Mahanadi river basin which then irrigates six of the 13 blocks of Kalahandi through a maze of canals and sub-canals running to hundreds of kilometres. The construction of the 52 km-long main left canal from the projects barrage at Mangalpur ended in December last year while the main right canal with a length of 84 km is expected to end by March 2015.
Green,but how green?
The water gushing into Kalahandis fields has brought with it problems of a different kind. While earlier,farmers used to grow pulses and millets such as ragi during the rabi season,most of them now grow only paddy throughout the year. Kalahandi can have 35-40 types of crops a year. But the lack of crop diversification has led to a decline in soil quality and texture. So farmers have to use more fertilisers to retain productivity levels, says Ashok Patnaik of local NGO Karrtabya.
Though more water has led to more productivity,it has also made the crops vulnerable to pest attacks and diseases. For small farmers like us,it is difficult to survive by spending so much on paddy. Every year we have to deal with some kind of diseases, says marginal farmer Uddhaba Sahu of Mangalpur village.
With labourers preferring to work under NREGA,farmhands are in short supply. Farmers like Sahu say they cant afford the steep cost of automated farm equipment. Rising paddy production has also meant that farmers are forced to sell their produce below the minimum support price of Rs 1,250 for every quintal of paddy.
Without a planned drainage system,some areas face waterlogging. For the last several years,Indravati project officials had no schedule for water discharge and they continued to release water even when farmers did not need it. But this has been resolved to an extent since last year,with water flowing through canals and sub-canals. With fields hardly left to dry due to the continous irrigation,the area stinks during the monsoon as people defecate in the open.
Rising mechanisation has also led to a sharp drop in livestock population. With depleting livestock,farmers are dumping the straw into the irrigation canals,choking them.
The Land Ceiling Act has not stopped rich farmers from Andhra Pradesh from coming to Kalahandi and buying up lands of small and marginal farmers whom the irrigation project was meant to benefit. With farm input costs going up,many fear that small-time farmers would end up selling their land to the land sharks.
Officials say Kalahandi can be among Indias top-10 rice producing districts and yet not lose its soil quality if farmers are open to newer methods of cultivation. One modern system of rice-growing is the System of Rice Intensification. Under SRI,farmers sow a small number of seeds and then transplant them into fields one by one,while controlling the water input. Through SRI,the productivity can go up by 30-40 per cent, says Orissas Director of Agriculture and Food Production R Sant Gopalan.