//Bio-fuel to the rescue of distressed farmers

Bio-fuel to the rescue of distressed farmers

Stanley Theodore/SNS

HYDERABAD, March 10. — Andhra Pradesh farmers who have been through crises for years are looking to turn the corner thanks to the unprecedented emphasis on bio-fuels by the Rajashekar Reddy government.

“No state has a road map for bio-fuel plantation and extraction comparable to AP’s. We are aiming to bring 50 lakh acres under cultivation exclusively for bio-fuel crops. That would be one fifth’s of the state’s total cultivable area,” agriculture minister Mr N Raghuveera Reddy told The Statesman.
Maize yields ethanol, a key component of petrol. The area under maize has doubled in the last three years and the government has procured around four lakh tonnes. Though this is basically meant for poultry the government is using this to lay a networking and marketing base for exploiting this bio-fuel.

Mr Reddy said the government is aiming to begin ethanol extraction by mid-2008. The manner in which government is promoting maize is impacting the farmers directly. They would earlier sell for Rs 400 a quintal or even lower. The government has fixed a minimum support price of Rs 540 last year. “Now no farmer can say he is getting lesser than that. In fact they are selling at Rs 600-700 a quintal on an average”, he said.

The state’s constant drought conditions forced the government to look at bio-fuels. In 2005 they nourished nurseries for jethropa, whose extract could be mixed in diesel. This failed to take off as the plant needed continuous water. Farmers reasoned they might as well cultivate sweet lime or orange. This failure turned to the government’s advantage.

“Then we realised pongamia can do better. We started work in early 2006 and now 1.3 lakh acres are under plantation. This is national record. We prepared a scheme where the government pays Rs 10,800 for every acre of pongamia plantation. That is the amount needed for digging of pits, planting saplings, watering and finally grafting”, he said.

The farmer would begin realising the yield from the fourth year. Now the government announced that it would buy the seed at Rs 10 a kilo. Each acre holds 200 plants and each plant, in the worst case scenario, yields 2.5 kilos of seed. In other words the farmer is reaping Rs 5,000 of harvest without any investment.

“In the tenth year an acre’s produce would be between Rs 12,000 to Rs 15,000. After the third year the plant needs no water support. This is a drought resistant variety and can survive even if there is no rain for four years. Bio-fuels are turning out to be a huge boom for our farmers”.
The government has tied up with companies to set up plants to extract petrol and diesel from maize and jethropa respectively. These units are coming up at Kakinda, Nandyal, Guntur and Hyderabad.