Already pushed to a breaking point by the Covid-19 pandemic over the past two years, the agrarian community of Karnataka had placed their hope in a bountiful kharif harvest.
But relentless rains and a few flash floods have caused huge losses to farmers who could take three to four years to recover.
The rains, which were caused by a cyclonic depression, severely affected the arid districts of south-interior Karnataka, particularly in Kolar, Tumakuru, Ramanagara, Chikkaballapur and Bengaluru Rural.
Labeled as “drought-stricken districts” for decades, this season’s rainfall has broken several records, with many saying they haven’t seen such heavy rains in more than 45 years.
Data from the Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Unit (KSNDMC) shows that the state as a whole received 142 mm of precipitation in November, up from 39 mm on average, a difference of nearly 263 % compared to the norm.
Some districts have received four times the amount of rain they receive each year.
“The unprecedented rain has submerged huge swathes of farmland with standing crops ready for harvest. Several streams and rivers that had dried up have come back to life, shattering reservoirs and triggering flash floods, ”said Anjaneya Reddy, farmer and activist in Chikkaballapur.
Unlike their usual annual prayers, the farmers are now begging the gods to stop the rain.
“The rain brought famine to us. We were inactive for two months without work, ”said Jayamma, a worker on a flower farm in Chowdenahalli, Kolar district.
Jayamma says her family of six had to skip meals as their income plummeted.
“Forget us, even our farm owner also struggled to cope with the severe damage,” she said.
The sudden change in weather conditions also affected staple crops and cash crops, causing damage in the hundreds of crores.
“Covid pulled it all off. While our investment (plants, soil preparation) was not affected during the pandemic, the incessant rains forced us to start from scratch. It may take another four to five years to recover from the losses, ”said S Harish of Vapasandra in Chikkaballapur, whose vineyard was submerged under four feet of water for nearly a week.
“I have to uproot all the plants that I have grown for five years. It will take me at least five years to get the performance I was getting all these days, ”Harish said.
Statewide, grape growers suffered losses of Rs 2 to 3 lakh per acre; vegetable growers suffered losses of Rs 1 to 2 lakh per acre.
N Jyothi, another farmer from Chikkaballapur, says her entire harvest of ragi (red millet) has been wiped out. “Due to the initial rain, the standing crop was flattened. As the rains continued with cloudy conditions, the ears began to sprout. We have lost the harvest. We hope to at least use the straw as fodder for the livestock provided there is no more rain, ”she said.
A preliminary estimate from the Department of Agriculture revealed that nearly 40% of the 6.88 hectares of standing crops have been wiped out.
Along with the damage caused by the rains, subsequent weather conditions with high humidity levels and increased moisture in the soil completely destroyed the vegetable crops.
“The beetroot that we grew on an acre of land caught mushrooms. The harvest of tomatoes, peppers and cabbage was also completely lost, ”said Lakshmamma, a farmer from Pillagundlahalli of Sidlaghatta taluk in Chikkaballapur.
Srinivas, a farmer from the nearby village of Nallojanahalli, said the standing water had made his cauliflower crop “bloom”.
Along with Tumakuru, Chikkaballapur is the worst affected district, with Kolar coming third.
Farmers are also appalled by the current compensation announced by the government.
On average, it costs around Rs 1.5 lakh to grow an acre of tomato. The government pays Rs 6,800 per hectare for rainfed crops and Rs 13,500 per hectare for irrigated crops.
The Kolar Agricultural Commodity Market Committee (APMC), considered the second largest tomato market in Asia, received only 50% of its usual supply in November.
On two days last week, as the rain peaked, the supply had fallen to 4,000 quintals per day, compared to the usual supply of 25,000 quintals per day this month.
TS Ravikumar, secretary of Kolar APMC, said: “After peaking at Rs 100 per kg, tomatoes are now selling for Rs 50 per kg”, adding that it will take at least three months for APMC to return to normal.
Poor maintenance of water bodies
Out-of-season rains have also highlighted poor management of water bodies in these drought-stricken regions. The unbridled encroachment and degradation of these bodies of water and their supply canals is also poorly reflected on the Department of Minor Irrigation, the guardian of these bodies of water.
“Although labeled as drought stricken, Kolar undivided district has over 4,000 water points
body. If they had been well maintained during the drought season, they could
have minimized the damage to some extent. Dry soil cannot absorb much water, so it drains. But the network of these 4000 reservoirs and lakes could have controlled the overflow and retained at least half of it, ”said Anjaneya Reddy.
The resulting neglect resulted in the flooding of houses and fields and the erosion of valuable topsoil.
“We have lost an opportunity to store and percolate water. It would take years for us to get back to normal, ”said K Ramu Shivanna and G Narayanaswamy, farmer leaders in Kolar.
Kolar DC said that in July, the district administration cleared the encroachment of about 40 lakes and was set to continue the process when the rains hit. “This is an ongoing process and requires a lot of conviction,” he said.
Surprisingly, lakes that have been repaired several times in the recent past by the minor irrigation department have also been violated.
“Lake Agrahara Anjaneya near Nallojanahalli has suffered five breaches in the past 10 years. Engineers had repaired the lake dike after spending several crores. But the lake made a dent again. What action will the government take against contractors and engineers for doing such poor work? Asked Anitha D, the farmer from Nallojanahalli Majire in Chikkaballapur district.
The Manjunath tomato field, located just downstream from the lake, was completely washed away.
“The flowing water was at least seven feet high. Almost three to four feet of topsoil was washed away. Now it will cost several lakhs to top it up with fresh soil so that I can grow a new crop, ”he said.
Villagers alleged that Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, who visited the lake late in the evening during his rain damage investigation, had little time to listen to the farmers.
Anitha explained: “The deputy commissioner who visited the lake a few days before the CM’s visit told us that she would order soil tests before undertaking any repair work, as the problem seems to be with the soil. But to date, no action has been taken.
The state government has started paying compensation in a few districts. “Even though the investigation is ongoing (which should be completed by November 30), compensation is being offered simultaneously. The intention is to offer immediate help, ”said Brijesh Kumar Dikshit, Commissioner for Agriculture.
At the same time, the Agriculture department also coordinates with insurance companies for prompt payment of insurance for localized risks and post-harvest losses. “Payment is expected to start next week,” Dikshit said.
However, the data shows that the enrollment rate for crop insurance plans has historically been low. This year, only 11.97 lakh hectares of agricultural crops were insured, out of a total insurable area of 65 lakh hectares.
Many farmers DH met during the field visits said they feel empty when they think about the future. A helpline that provides relevant information and even emotional support and counseling would help them cope with this crisis.
As a preventive measure, the state’s agronomists are also developing and sharing appropriate techniques to help farmers overcome the unpredictability of the weather.
“We are working to provide seeds that can withstand drought as well as a few days of waterlogging as well as techniques to modify seed dormancy,” said S Rajendra Prasad, vice-chancellor of the University of Agricultural Sciences. from Bangalore.
(With contributions from Anitha Pailoor in Kolar)