The rainfall data for Karnataka shows record rainfall in November in 60 years, with the state reporting crop damage worth Rs 8,962 crore in 10 lakh hectares of land, which is reportedly the highest in the country.

A Tumakuru farmer with his destroyed ragi crops/ Special ArrangementA Tumakuru farmer with his destroyed ragi crops/ Special Arrangement
news Agriculture Wednesday, December 29, 2021 - 15:07

Nadur Kenchappa, a farmer from Sira taluk of Karnataka’s Tumakuru district, hasn’t had much time or energy to celebrate the repealing of controversial farm laws in December, after a year of intense protests. After all, Kenchappa, too, had rallied against it in the past year. Instead, he is busy with the paperwork for the assessment of losses he has incurred after the continuous unseasonal rains in November, which has destroyed his groundnut crop.

In most parts of Karnataka, farmers have been grappling with severe losses due to crop damage after unprecedented, unseasonal rains this year following a depression in the Bay of Bengal. The rainfall data for Karnataka shows record rainfall in the month of November in 60 years. Consequently, the state has reported crop damage worth Rs 8962 crore in 10 lakh hectares of land, reportedly the highest in the country. Although the state government has declared compensation, farmers say that the compensation assessment procedures and the relief amount are far from satisfactory or the ground reality.

Groundnut, a Kharif crop, is one of the commercial crops of Tumakuru. It is generally harvested by the end of the southwest monsoon in October. “This year, the rain went on for about a month, during the harvesting period, which caused the nuts to sprout. So, we could neither sell the crop at the market nor take it home for our consumption,” said Kenchappa, who had invested Rs 28,000 on his one-acre of groundnut crop. “I was hoping to get a yield of about Rs 1 lakh but it’s all gone now. Fortunately, the soil was not damaged, unlike other districts of North Karnataka,” he added.

According to Kenchappa, more than 75% of the farmers in Sira suffered the same problem. Houses, farming equipment, and fodder for sheep, too, were damaged in the rains. “The more the farmers of this district have invested, the more the loss they have faced. The Agricultural Department has submitted a report that all farmers of the district have faced more than 80 to 85% of loss. We are now requesting the government for the relief funds of at least Rs 25,000 per acre,” said Kenchappa, who is also the secretary of a farmer’s association and owns three acres of land in Sira, Tumakuru.

Ragi crops destroyed after the unseasonal rains in November in Tumakuru

Ugrappa, who owns three acres in the same area, said, “We were happy that the monsoon was great this year, until the unexpected rains hit our state. The moisture and the rain led to sprouting, making the groundnut crop inedible. For every acre, we had invested around Rs 28,000 to Rs 30,000 and were expecting returns of almost Rs 60,000.”

The investment that farmers talk about often comes in the form of loans – bank or private. If they are unable to pay – partially or fully – they run the risk of getting stuck in a debt cycle, which makes farming increasingly unviable and highly stressful. “Every farmer household in this district has taken loans. I have taken loans worth Rs 30,000 from the cooperative society. We need relief funds to recover the damages and to repay our loans. That is the only solution; otherwise, the problem of farmers’ suicide will start again in the state,” said Ugrappa.

Challenges in compensation

According to farmers, the current mechanism to assess the damage to crops and disburse compensation accordingly, is flawed and outdated. Per the damage assessment norms, the revenue department officials undertake a ground survey, mostly through eye estimation in every affected village. If the crop loss assessment through this method is more than 50%, the team may undertake crop cutting experiments. Based on these estimates and experiments, the compensation or relief is decided by the Union or state governments.

The farmers, meanwhile, are required to do some paperwork (online or offline), which many find hard to follow. It also includes follow-ups, demands for documents and disputes that may arise later, which make the entire process tedious.

“The calculation of compensation is not at all scientific,” said A Govindaraju, state vice-president of farmers’ movement Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS), alleging corruption in the process.

A Govindaraju, a farmer in Tumakuru

He alleged that the government does not conduct assessments properly. “They are paying a measly amount of Rs 3,000 to farmers for crop loss, when at least Rs 25,000 is needed per acre. There has been excessive damage to crops like ragi, groundnut and jowar,” he said, adding that input costs, be it fertilisers or pesticides, have risen sharply in the past two years.

“The government has not called any farmers’ association for a meeting about the compensation issue either. Farmers have not even received insurance payments last year, and so, this year will be harder,” Govindaraju added.

C Yathiraju, an activist and vice president, Tumkur Science Centre (a voluntary organisation working on creating scientific literacy among the public), said, “It’s not just about this year. Assessment involves a lot of problems. They don’t have the manpower. Losses are multiple. Assessment using the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) norms is quite old and not updated. The parameters have to be revised in the light of inflation.”

Apart from crop loss, a lot of damage is caused to agricultural infrastructure. “Fertile soil is taken away and silted. They have become barren land. Many are looking at decreased yield next year,” said Yathiraju.

According to Tushar Girinath, principal secretary, Revenue Department, the process of disbursing compensation was accelerated. “A total Rs 681 crore has already been disbursed, of which, Rs 551 crore was disbursed in just 10 days. More than 10 lakh hectares of farmland has sustained damage.” However, he did not elaborate on how much compensation per acre was allotted and for which crops.

Struggles beyond crop damages

The unexpected heavy rains and the subsequent damages to the crop add to the existing burden of the small and marginal farmers, who form the majority in agriculture. While the national and international attention was on the three controversial farm laws and the year-long protest of feisty farmers on Singhu Border, discontent was also brewing among the farmers in Karnataka over an amendment to the Land Reforms Act. Farmers fear that the amendment, which allows non-farmers to buy agricultural land, will push them into selling their loss-making land to corporates or individuals with little bargaining power.

According to the earlier Land Reforms Act, agricultural land could be sold only to agriculturists and that land could not be used for anything other than farming. Farmers usually sell their land partially, or engage in contract farming/rental farming. While it did not assure financial stability, the possibility of a coercive deal, like in the amendment, was a little less, according to farmers and activists.

“Earlier, even if the farmers sold their land, it was sold remained within the community and for agriculture. But because agriculture is becoming unsustainable, the farmers will end up selling their land to corporates,” Govindaraju explained. “Besides, because of this amendment, the prices of land per acre have gone up. For instance, if a farmer earlier got about Rs 30,000 per acre, he will now get around Rs 50,000,” he added.

Several activists told TNM that they have been holding meetings for awareness and to convince farmers to not “fall for this.” “Many farmers neither have negotiating positions against the powerful companies that may want to buy large tracts of land from multiple farmers, nor do they have the support systems to skill themselves after selling their land. Factories (set up on agricultural lands) rarely employ or absorb landless farmers. There is no doubt that this amendment was made to benefit the corporates and not the farmers,” Govindaraju added.

A farmer in Tumakuru with his damaged crops

Yathiraju, too, emphasised that despite protests against the amendment, the present agrarian crisis (erratic weather conditions, climate change, government policies on procurement and MSPs) could well be a motivating factor for the farmers to give up their land.  He also flagged the long-term issues of droughts (wet/dry) caused by climate change and degraded land because of overuse and overtreatment of soil for cash crops.

Several tracts of land are left often vacant – non-cultivable – due to some or all of these factors, several farmers and activists said. “Besides, children are working in cities like Bengaluru, and labourers have migrated. Farmers who are old are unable to do much,” said GNS Reddy, veteran activist and agricultural expert. “People going away from agriculture is unthinkable because that is what gives us life. Food is something serene and spiritual. If we don’t produce your own food, even god cannot save us.”

Manjunath, who runs a school of natural farming in Tumakuru, also pointed to the changes in the cropping patterns that are geared to benefit the industries and not ensure food security. “Take any cash crop, like indigo or cotton, it is for one industry or the other. It cannot be consumed. Over a period of time, farmers have been pushed to these crops over food crops in the hope of remuneration. However, they have been suffering losses, and their input costs are much higher.

Way forward

Experts have been flagging the issue of productivity and the need to change the way agriculture is practised at present.

GNS Reddy said the potential is far from optimised in Karnataka. “The biggest problem in Karnataka is that productivity of the soil is not tapped. Productivity today is at the lowest level. Crop diversity, plant diversity and genetic diversity is totally forgotten. For example, One coconut tree gives 300-400 coconuts per year, but here, we get 50 coconuts. Everyone has forgotten genetic diversity (planting varieties of a crop). There is a huge gap between potential and reality,” Reddy said.

Considering the soil and rainfall in Karnataka, he suggested depending on a food forest system. Food forest is like a forest garden with edible plants. It is a man-made confluence of vegetation layers (trees, plants, shrubs), and also serves as an alternative to better land-use. It not only generates food but maintains a healthy ecosystem.

“This is sustainable and generates enough income. We need to bring back changes in the farming system. In five years, we can revolutionise farming,” said Reddy.

What really prevents farmers from reverting to or reinventing natural farming is the existing debt traps or skewed balance between investments, expenses and incomes. Govindaraju repeatedly spoke about the implementation of MS Swaminathan Foundation’s recommendations that all input costs plus profit should be calculated before deciding the minimum support price MSP). He said the historical land reforms of 1973 should not be diluted.

According to Manjunath, “Unless we revert to food crops in a sustainable manner and let nature heal and nurture, the greed of a few will continue to push farmers to the margins.” Until then, more awareness and financial support for such changes are needed.

(With inputs from Amullya Shivashankar)