Thiruvananthapuram: Even as Kerala is busy figting the battle against coronavirus, Agriculture Minister V.S. Sunilkumar,52, has set his eyes on ensuring that the southern state is near self-sufficient in agriculture.
As against a total requirement of around 20 lakh tonnes of vegetables in the state per annum, he has set an ambitious target of 16 lakh tonnes by year-end. Vegetables worth Rs 3,000 crore are presently sourced from neighbouring states. So, he is focusing on horticulture.
In an interview to IANS at his official residence here, the Minister opened up on his plans to further develop the agriculture sector. Excerpts from the interview:
Q: What are your plans for agriculture in the wake of Covid-19?
Minister: Covid-19 has taken a heavy toll in all sectors in Kerala. We in the Agriculture Department have decided to make good use of this bad situation to see how we can turn around agrarian activities. Our aim is to achieve near self-sufficiency in vegetable production.
Q: Can you explain the road map for it?
Minister: In January, we had chalked out a plan named 'Jeevanani' which will ensure coordination between agriculture, health and local self-government departments. Our plan was to develop a 'healthy plate' and for that 70 lakh homesteads would be drawn into it.
Q: What's this 'healthy plate' concept?
Minister: It is the first step -- we have identified tubers, vegetables and fruits which can be cultivated in our state by our own people at their homes, community farms and such things.
These includes tubers like tapioca, yam, besides vegetables like beans, carrot, pumpkin, tomato, cucumber, potato. The locally grown fruits includes jackfruit, guava, papaya, pineapple and various plantains besides a few others.
Q: Is Kerala's climate and soil conditions good for it?
Minister: What we have done is we have conducted soil tests across the state and divided it into five agro-ecological zones, which are further subdivided into 23 ecological units. Now we are ready with a data base on which fruits, vegetables and tubers are ideal to grow in each of these 23 units.
Q: Does this mean we are returning to our old food habits?
Minister: To a certain extent, yes, as we are heavily dependent on vegetables that come from neighbouring states. Already we have started to change that. Our new plan, which will be announced shortly, will be an integrated plan wherein other departments like Animal Husbandry, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and Fisheries are also drawn into it.
They would basically look after cultivating different millets, besides achieve self- sufficiency in the productin of eggs, milk and meat and also develop inland fisheries to meet Kerala's demand.
Q: When do you think it will get into action?
Minister: We began by the beginning of this year itself. Amid this Covid-19 battle, each and every department has now realised the need for better coordination and cooperation. We have already started the ground work and now it's only a question of cross-integration.
Q: How many units will be set up in the state under the new integrated plan?
Minister: We are planning to set up 14,000 units across the state and will have around 1,000 village markets. At present, 400 markets have been set up and the remaining will be ready soon. Each unit will be under the control of a committee consisting of serving and retired agriculture officials, expert farmers in the locality. They would hold regular classes to educate others on how everyone should adopt the best agricultural practises.
Q: Who will manage these new village markets?
Minister: It will be managed by the local committees and everyone who brings their produce into the market would be immediately paid around 70 per cent and the remaining amount once the produce is sold.
Q: Will there be cooling chambers?
Minister: We plan to set up one cooling chamber in each of the 140 Assembly constituencies. This would enable for storage of produce. It would be coordinated by Horticrop and Vegetable and Fruit Promotion Council.
Q: How much new land would come under cultivation?
Minister: We expect that 25,000 hectares of new land, presently lying idle, would be cultivated for tubers, fruits and vegetables. Besides, a huge extant of land would be used for paddy cultivation.
Q: When would the first results be visible?
Minister: It will be visible by the end of this calendar year as there will be a remarkable increase in yield of fruits, vegetables and tubers. Though Covid-19 took a heavy toll on the humanity, it has made us think hard and develope a plan of action to achieve near self-sufficiency.