Two major irrigations schemes envisioned for the district, the Banasura and the Karapuzha, are yet to be commissioned.

Devastating drought and unsustainable agriculture leave farmers in Wayanad in distress
news Agriculture Wednesday, May 04, 2016 - 18:09

Jose, a pepper farmer in the Mullankolly Panchayat of Wayanad district is in distress. It has been the most devastating drought Kerala has witnessed in recent history. “Since I moved here in 1960, we have never experienced such an intense drought. All our crops like pepper have completely failed. How do we move forward from this?” asks Jose.

But Jose’s tale of woe is not the only one from this region. Farmers in Wayanad district, outlying the Karnataka border, narrate similar stories of distress. A preliminary report collated by the Principal Agricultural Officer (PAO) of Wayanad district has put the quantum of crop loss at an estimated Rs 38 crore. The figure could go way up or down depending upon the weather in the coming days. According to the report, the border regions of Pulpally and Mullankolly, where pepper and coffee are the major crops, have borne the brunt of the heat waves.

The texture of the soil undergoes a dramatic shift closer to the border villages like Mullankolly, which is situated 4-5 kilometres away from Pulpally. The soil loses its gravelly quality and takes on a richer clay-like black form, exuding the impression of a parched land under the merciless sun. Scattered instances of drizzle over the past days and the resultant accumulation of loam increases the difficulty in traversing the drought struck sites, say the farmers. “This type of soil does not require much fertilizer as it is naturally high yielding,” Jose points out.

Adding to the woes of the cultivators is the mighty Kabini river has all but dried up into a weak stream. The Kabini is the sole source of water for irrigation in the district. Farmers had to forego the previous ‘Punja’ season following a poor rainfall.

The agricultural officers at Wayanad like PAO Noor Jehan reason that the proximity to Karnataka state, where the mercury was even more unforgiving than the state of Kerala, was a major cause for the amplified drought and the climate change in those villages.

Two major irrigations schemes envisioned for the district, the Banasura and the Karapuzha, are yet to be commissioned. The farmers are dependant solely on the Kabini River flowing through the district. “Such large schemes like Banasura and Karapuzha will remain only on paper. We need smaller, regional irrigation projects, and we had petitioned the same to the Government over the past years. It fell on deaf ears. We are not harnessing even a fraction of the potential offered by the Kabini River. Most of us cultivators have our own ponds, and the water level can be strictly maintained and monitored,” says Jose.

However, a number of irrigation schemes is expected to be implemented over the next five years under Prime Minister Krishi Sinchayi Yojana(PMKSY). “It is a 50-50 venture from the Centre and the State, which envisions the implementation of irrigation schemes under nominal costs. We have already submitted details of feasible projects,” said PAO Noor Jehan.  But for now, agricultural officers have found themselves neck deep in bureaucratic paper work as around 2500 applications claiming crop loss have arrived at their desks. As each plot needs to be verified before the crop loss estimate is drawn up, the regional officers have requested for reinforcements.

Dr TV Sajeev of Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI) has a different story. He points out that the soil characteristics of Wayanad district, which is a part of the Deccan Plateau, differ from the rest of the state. “Wayanad once was conducive for great agricultural productivity. One of the major issues with sustained monocropping is that the soil becomes compact, difficult to revert back to its original form. What happened at Wayanad was an intense agriculture, driven by the latest fad or the crop which offered the most profit. First it was vanilla, then cocoa and so on. There was no sustainable agricultural model. While observing Wayanad, it can be seen that the crops have sustained minimum damages in places with canopy cover. However, when a farmer sustains a crop loss, he chops off and sells the wood which creates a negative feedback loop. Such negative loops are also caused by the migration of wild animals under the heat,” he says. 

Show us some love and support our journalism by becoming a TNM Member - Click here.