Frequent losses in paddy cultivation and high labour costs are forcing farmers to offer their lands to fish culture in the delta areas — where two to three crops are cultivated per annum without any hassle.

While returns from paddy is around Rs 10,000 to Rs 20,000 per acre per annum, the Pangasius or Roopchand variety of fish culture is fetching farmers Rs 50,000 to Rs 70,000, though there are the issues of pollution. Aqua-culturists and traders from East & West Godavari and Krishna districts are making a beeline to the delta areas with abundant water, such as Buchireddypalem, Kovur and Sangam mandals of Nellore district, to take the agriculture lands on lease basis.

Since one year’s lease amount is paid in advance, farmers are offering their lands without a second thought. This is also as there are no risks and investment, unlike in paddy. Nearly 4700 hectares are under fish culture in Nellore district; a majority of these in Kovur and Atmakur constituencies, fisheries officials said.

However, the fish culture with Pangasius variety of fish is a bane to those living close to the ponds since it emits an unbearable odour. These farmers use the waste from mutton and chicken shops to feed the fish. Notwithstanding the shortcomings, fish culture is rampant in delta areas. A young farmer, Vemareddy Vineet Reddy of Kovur, said, “We get good returns from this, unlike paddy.”

He said, on the other hand, paddy farmers are facing several problems. For one, they are forced to give additional quantities of paddy –to the extent of 250 kgs for each putti (850kg) — to the rice millers to compensate for their loss due to moisture. Attributing the moisture problem to the absence of drying facilities after the mechanised harvesting, Vineet Reddy pleaded that the government create drying facilities for farms, so as to enable farmers to continue paddy cultivation and prevent shortage of food grains in future.

Asked about air pollution because of fish culture, fisheries joint director Nageswar Rao said, “We have formed committees to tackle this, with tahsildar as head, fisheries development officer as convener, and a motor vehicle inspector and the local sub inspector as members.”

“The committees would conduct raids and take action against fishponds using mutton or chicken waste” he said, adding that the officials are also conducting awareness programmes for the farmers on this issue. “We are concerned about water pollution because of the use of chicken and mutton waste,” he said. Leader of the federation of farmers associations Koti Reddy appealed to paddy farmers to be mindful that their lands will be spoilt because of the fish culture and it would also create environmental issues. He advised them to opt, instead, for remunerative crops.