Unseasonal rains in Kerala: Farmers across state face a huge crisis
The water that flowed from the Muthanga paddy fields to Noolpuzha was actually the tears of the Mullu Kurumba paddy farmers – this was a message that many in Kerala’s Wayanad received on their WhatsApp groups recently after the unseasonal rains in the state. The moving message was sent by N Badusha, President of Wayanad Prakruthi Samrakshana Samithi, an NGO for environment protection.
The Mullu Kurumba tribal community consists of small-scale paddy farmers residing in Manmathamoola, Athikuni, Alathur, Kumizhi, Rmapallur, Kolur and a few other villages in the Noolpuzha panchayat of Wayanad district. Each family owns half to one acre of land, not more. They usually cultivate Wayanadan Thondi, Adukkan and Gandhakasala rice varieties. This year, 115 Mullu Kurumba farmers cultivated paddy in 150 acres under the Muthanga Padasekhara Samiti. In the beginning of November, all of them were happy that within days the paddy would be harvested, knowing that the yield was very high this time.
“They had started harvesting, but the unseasonal rain destroyed their hard work. The heavy rains broke the bunds around the paddy fields. They won’t even get fodder from the crop to feed their cattle. Usually they do all agriculture work manually, but this time due to this weather they hired machines to harvest, but those machines got stuck in the mud and did not work,” Badusha told TNM.
The unseasonal rains caused losses at different phases. The farmers spent almost Rs 30,000 per acre to cultivate paddy, but this time they did not manage to get even half the amount back. Most farmers lost the amount spent completely. Usually in this area the harvest happens in the first week of November. But due to the heavy rains it was postponed. Paddy cultivation is a tough task in the region. Along with taking care of the crops, farmers also have to protect them from wild animal attacks.
“Every farmer has built a shed and treehouse near the fields to guard them. We spend day and night in the fields taking measures to keep the wild animals away. We cultivate paddy organically, that also takes a lot of effort. We haven’t seen such a change in weather ever before,” AK Gopinathan from the Alathur tribal hamlet and a Noolpuzha panchayat member told TNM.
Not just Wayanad, farmers across Kerala suffered huge losses as a result of the unseasonal rains, which occurred due to different low pressure areas developing in the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea and the cyclonic circulations in the oceans.
Tinto K Edayadi, a paddy farmer from Kuttanad, said farmers in the region lost a majority of their harvest. “In Kuttanad we usually do two cultivations, one is puncha, where the harvest takes place in the month of April. In the second cultivation (additional crop), the harvest usually happens in October and November. This time it got postponed due to the unseasonal rains and we lost a majority of the yield,” he said.
Farmers in the Kuttanad region usually expect 25 quintals of rice (with bran) per acre of land. But this time they did not get even 10 quintals. Only 40% of Kuttanad does additional crop cultivation. The rice variety usually cultivated is Uma. But this year, most farmers opted for Manuratna, a high-yield variety developed by the Agricultural Research Station (ARS), Mannuthy, Thrissur. This variety has to be harvested within 100 days, but the rains hampered that.
“Another issue we faced was the high rental rates for harvesting machines. The government’s fixed rate is Rs 2,200 for an hour. As harvesting was delayed, the machines were in high demand on days when there was no rain. So they increased the rates to Rs 2,800 per hour. Moreover, whereas the usual time taken to harvest one acre is 1 to 1.5 hours, even the machines took 6 hours as all the fields had turned into mud pits, so we had to pay five times more. On top of this, the rice that got soaked in heavy rains had moisture content. Such rice also has a colour change. In the market, this is considered low quality so its price comes down,” Tinto explained.
Farmers Sudhakaran from Thrissur and Radhakrishnan from Palakkad shared similar concerns. The state government provides insurance for the total crop loss; there is also a small insurance from the Union government for partial crop loss. But all the farmers lamented that the insurance amount will not cover even a third of their expenses.
Chackochan PJ Chackochan, one of the founders and managing director of Vanamoolika, a cooperative in Wayanad that exports high quality spices, rice varieties, coffee and other organic certified products, said that they were burdened with some kind of disease or the other in crops due to the rains. “The disease affects paddy as well as pepper. So we’re not sure how badly it will affect the yield,” he said.
Small vegetable farmers to large farm owners were upset about the insect attack and diseases caused due to the rains, apart from the crop destruction. This mainly affected the organic cultivators. “All our vegetables were lost. Spinach, brinjal and ladies finger plants were attacked by different pests. They ate up all the leaves. Even if we spray medicines, it gets washed away in the rain,” Sasi, a small-scale farmer from Thiruvananthapuram’s Aruvikkara, said.
Though all farmers suffered huge losses in the unseasonal rains, those cultivating paddy were most affected.
On November 11, Kerala Agriculture Minister P Prasad said that the state incurred a loss of Rs 493.4 crore during the recent spate of rainfall. A month before that, on October 18, the Minister had said that the loss was Rs 200 crore. The loss had doubled within a month. As per data from the Agricultural Information Management System (AIMS) portal, a crop loss in 59,110.81 hectares of land from October 12 to November 4 was reported.
In October, Kottayam registered the highest loss in the agriculture sector, as it was one of the worst hit districts in the rains, followed by flooding and landslides. The loss is pegged at Rs 36.51 crore across 1,936 hectares with 7,094 farmers affected. The crops include paddy, banana, pepper, cardamom, tapioca, vegetables, coffee, pineapple and many others. The district’s dairy sector also showed a loss of around Rs 19 crore, said an official from the district Agriculture Department, citing primary assessment figures.
According to the data provided by the Agriculture Minister in the Assembly, Thrissur (Rs 24.84 crore), Kollam (Rs 22 crore), Palakkad (Rs 19.9 crore) and Ernakulam (Rs 18.85 crore) followed Kottayam in the loss.
In November, Alappuzha registered the highest loss in the agriculture sector. Spread over 19,348.86 hectares, the sector had a loss worth Rs 75.24 crore, affecting 28,351 farmers in the district. Thrissur had the second highest loss worth Rs 95.07 crore causing damage to 17,841.88 hectares, Minister Prasad said.