A season of devastating losses: Wayanad’s tribal farmers will have a gloomy harvest

Farmers of the Mathothupoyil tribal colony at Panamaram in Wayanad have lost not just the yield for this season, but also the plants that were sown years ago.
A season of devastating losses: Wayanad’s tribal farmers will have a gloomy harvest
A season of devastating losses: Wayanad’s tribal farmers will have a gloomy harvest

Narayanan stared at the watery fields of rotting paddy next to his house. There, amidst the expanse of agricultural land ravaged by the floods lay his two acres. It was the patch of farmland he was to harvest this Onam to scrape through a living this year. 

With his eight-month-old daughter, Vaishnavi, held close to his chest, the daily wage farmer from Mathothupoyil tribal colony at Panamaram in Wayanad, says that there is little left to hope for, given the crippling losses he has faced this season. 

“We saw the water drown the fields at 3 am. We had no sleep after that and around 6:30 am we knew that we too had to leave as the water level was rising,” he recounts. Due to the floods, Narayanan lost 40 sacks of grains on that fateful day. 

Narayanan and Vaishnavi

“I used to make some additional money after selling the rice and the hay. But this time, the water didn’t spare a single crop,” he says, referring to the floods on the banks of the Kabini river, a result of the Banasura Sagar dam being opened due to excessive rains. 

Like Narayanan, scores of residents from the Paniya tribe and other such communities, living in the colonies of Panamaram, Mananthavady and Noolpuzha in Wayanad district have lost their precious produce. Pepper, colocasia and betel nut trees planted several years ago now lie rotting in their backyards. With the rains and flooding, these residents have not just lost the yield this season, but even the plants that were sown years ago. 

“We got the coffee beans from the agricultural department many years ago and I have nurtured and grown them all this while. But with these rains, everything is gone. It is all mud and water now,” says 40-year-old Shaila Mani. 

Shaila Mani

A single mother of 4 kids, Shaila estimates her losses to be Rs 30,000, having lost her yams, colocasia, betel nut, trees, kachal and 50 cents of paddy she has cultivated this year. However, what daunts her most is the task of growing the trees back from scratch. 

“The betel nut trees and coffee shrubs have been completely ruined by the waterlogging. These residents will most likely have to get new seeds and beans and start cultivating afresh,” says Benny, a resident of Mathothupoyil. 

For 58-year-old Kooran, damages were high as he lost a backyard full of Wayanad special pepper, which he could sell for Rs 700 a kilo at the market. 


“I had planted coffee, yams, pepper and kachal. We usually keep the kachal and some pepper for ourselves and sell the rest of the produce. But this year, all of it is damaged. I lost 2-3 sacks of rice from the 50 cents of land I cultivated. But what’s worse is that the pepper plants are fully spoilt and they take 3-4 years to grow again. After we have come this far, we have lost everything,” Kooran laments. 

Apart from the farm produce, residents have also lost cattle and other farm animals they reared for a living. Narrating a traumatising escape from the water which took away one of her calves, 50-year-old Sarada Jose says that she lived on a bed made of hay next to her cows for two days as there was no relief camp close to her colony.  

“I was trying to hurry my cows and the calf through the water to escape the floods. The big ones crossed over but the little’s one's legs were affected and it couldn’t move. It died later,” Sarada recounts. 

Sarada Jose

Bringing her two cows to safety, Sarada and other residents of her colony stayed on the terrace of a house-turned-relief-camp at Vagayattu for two days, before being shifted to a proper camp. 

Depending almost entirely on the cattle for a subsistence, life has turned grim for Sarada after floods. 

“I have lost Rs 20,000, which is what I would get from selling the calf. I used to sell 4-5 litres of milk from the cows. But that is reducing now as the udders are drying up,” she adds. 

Following the worst floods in this century, Kerala has recorded losses amounting to Rs 19,000 crores. A significant chunk of this would amount to agricultural losses due to farmers across the of the state losing their yields. 

However, for the tribal farmers and farm labourers, the future looks a whole lot bleaker due to both their sources of livelihood going dry after the floods. 

“Nobody is calling us for construction or daily wage work anymore. Life has come to a standstill and we have stopped receiving the daily wage that we earlier used to get. Added to this, I have lost all the rice that I had cultivated on my 50 cents of land and there’s no source of income,” another farm labourer Raman says, breaking down. 

This article has been produced in partnership with Oxfam India. In the last 10 years, Oxfam India has delivered over 36 impactful humanitarian responses in India. Oxfam India is providing critical relief to the affected families and communities in Kerala: clean drinking water, sanitation, and shelter kits. Click here to help #RebuildKerala.

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