Vol. 5 Num 652 Wed. March 29, 2006  

Agriculture in double jeopardy?
Crying need for a plan of action
Record low rainfall deficit and patchy supply of electricity all over the country have pushed farming into the throes of uncertainty and brought it face-to-face with a self-compounding crisis threatening to compromise food self-sufficiency, our hard-earned strong point, a niche of pride. There has been a 98-100 percent shortfall of rain water over last four months, reminding one of the prelude to the 1997 drought marked by a similar rain scarcity.

Yes, things might start changing in April and May if the easterly and westerly low pressures are in a conjunction to bring the rains beating down on the land. Much as we would hope for the best, fruit cultivation may have already been affected.

There is something more serious. The land moisture is decreasing, but while the hope lies in irrigation-based agriculture for which we have had a fairly strong and well laid out infrastructure as a fallback option, we have a bad omen there as well. That is exactly where we stumble into our second large hurdle which is the severe power supply shortage. The IRRI-Boro croplands, particularly in the northern districts are getting between one-fourth and one-third of the electricity needed in the peak hours. We get such an appraisal from no less an authority than the Rural Electrification Board (REB) adding that such power deficit is seriously impeding irrigation. Little wonder, therefore, that the farmers have laid siege to a local MP's house and district and lesser headquarters while road blockades and other forms of demonstration have been usual sights.

Faced which such a situation, frenzied explanations are being offered by the power ministry and power development board officials under questioning by the relevant parliamentary standing committee. There is the sub-culture of recriminatory swipes taken of each other with reckless abandon as each agency flaunted a holier-than-thou defence, as though secure in the knowledge that, there is none to hold anybody to account. Here is a sample of a hilarious argument put forward by PDB officials to the parliamentary body: since we are supplying more electricity to rural areas to keep irrigation going, the urban centres are having to take the brunt of load-shedding. This is falsehood at its worst; otherwise why should the farmers be getting one-fourth to one-third of their electricity requirement met and the urbanites roast in load-shedding for up to seven to eight hours a day?

Let all heads be put together to draw up a doable plan of action for an early mitigation of the problems.