TRICHY: Most of the arable lands around Trichy are fast becoming real estate properties allegedly due to the obliging revenue officials. The worst-affected are the poor tapioca growers whose collective 2,500 hectares have been converted into real estate terrain, according to officials in the horticulture department.
The officials, who did not want to be named, told TOI that in the last land survey conducted by the department in 2008, as much as 6,013 hectares (one hectare is 2.5 acres) were under tapioca cultivation and now the total land area for this crop has been narrowed down to around 3,500 hectares in four years. While builders call it rapid modernisation and expansion of town limits, a few concerned officials term it encroachment of agricultural lands.
They lamented that revenue officials were working overtime to convert farmlands into housing plots without the necessary no-objection certificate from the horticulture department. The poor farmers too gave in to the pressure to powerful lobbying since agriculture was no more profitable as it once used to be. Also, more and more youngsters looked down upon tilling of land. The farmers could not withstand the pressure from monopolistic cartels that controlled the market prices of tapioca at will either.
The officials said the business of growing tapioca in Trichy district was no more profitable as a Salem-based mill controlled the prices. About 52 tonnes of tapioca are generally harvested on a hectare of land and the crop, that was in the recent past sold at Rs 10 per kg in the wholesale market, was not even fetching Rs two today. The owners of the mills in question had formed a cartel, the officials alleged. They, at times, inflated the rate (normally fixed based on starch content), goading farmers to sow more, and then dropping prices at the crucial harvest season, to the detriment of growers.
The tapioca farmers complained to the district collector and subsequently a meeting of tapioca producers and mill owners was recently organised at Thuraiyur to thrash out contentious price-related issues. At the end of the meeting, all the administration could do was to advise the growers to form an exclusive association so that they could fight better together. The district administration also advised them not to harvest yield at one go, but depending on the market climate so that intermediaries could not exploit the situation. Tapioca is predominantly grown in Thuraiyur, Uppiliyapuram, Musiri, Thathangaiyarpet and Mannachanallur.
Similarly, banana of all varieties was cultivated over 9,167 hectares in 2008, but the cultivable area has now shrunk to 8,400 hectares, according to official estimates. The one-year crop had been grown in areas such as Thiruverumbur, Anthanallur, Lalgudi and Mannachannalur, and since they were in the periphery of Trichy town, it came handy for builders to convert them into competitively priced housing plots. Now, only Thottiyam and Musiri areas cultivate banana, which is also affected by a water shortage.