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Cashing in on floods

india Updated: Sep 13, 2008 19:37 IST
Zia Haq
Zia Haq
Hindustan Times
Cashing in on floods

Bihar needs to get back on track. Even though vast farmlands still lie under the swirling waters of Kosi, there's still hope.

Scientists say the solution must come from these fields. “Those affected are mostly farmers and the solution, too, must come from agricultural sciences,” said MS Swaminathan, one of India's best-known agricultural scientists and a Rajya Sabha member.

According to Swaminathan, Bihar now needs to change its short-term farm strategy and switch to short-haul cash crops that do rather well after floods. The idea is to grow crops that mature quickly — in about two months — and have a good market.

But such quick-fix solutions need adequate soil testing to determine areas that have benefited from silt deposits, Swaminathan said. Finance minister P. Chidambaram had, in the last budget, set aside an exclusive fund for mobile soil-testing vans. “This can come in handy now,” Swaminathan added.

Agronomists say high-value cash crops like sweet potatoes, mustard, oilseeds, drumsticks, mushroom and vegetables could solve the displaced farmers' problems for now.

“We are preparing to send our recommendations to the Bihar government in a day or two,” said Baldeo Singh, a scientist from the Indian Agricultural Research Institute.

The Bihar government has asked the Union agriculture ministry to send experts in 15 days from now.

Bihar's additional commissioner for disaster management, Pratyaya Amrit, however, said a few flood-hit districts may become accessible after October 15, but the water may not fully dry up till February next year.

Bihar has another problem: its landless labourers. With crops ruined and fields submerged, it will be difficult for millions to get work.