Already pushed to breaking point by the Covid-19 pandemic over the past two years, Karnataka’s agrarian community had pinned its hopes on a bountiful kharif harvest.
But incessant 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 southern interior districts of Karnataka, especially 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 have not seen such heavy rain in more than 45 years.
Data from the Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Cell (KSNDMC) shows that the state as a whole received 142mm of rainfall in November, compared to 39mm it receives on average, nearly 263% deviation from standard.
Some districts received four times the amount of rain they receive annually.
“The unprecedented rain has flooded huge swaths of farmland with standing crops ready to harvest. Several streams and rivers that had dried up have come alive, hollowing out reservoirs and triggering flash floods,” said Anjaneya Reddy, a farmer and activist in Chikkaballapur.
Read also | Karnataka CM Basavaraj Bommai announces compensation for rain related damage
Unlike their usual annual prayers, farmers now pray to the gods to stop the rain.
“The rain brought us starvation. We have been idle for two months without work,” said Jayamma, a flower farm worker 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 come to terms with the severe damage,” she said.
The sudden change in weather also impacted staple and cash crops, causing damage of hundreds of crores.
“Covid has ripped everything off. While our investments (plants, land preparation) were not affected during the pandemic, the incessant rains forced us to start from scratch. It may take another four to five years to recoup the losses,” said S Harish of Vapasandra in Chikkaballapur, whose vineyard was submerged under four feet of water for almost a week.
“I have to uproot all the plants I have grown for five years. It will take me at least five years to get the return I was getting all those days,” Harish lamented.
Across the state, grape growers suffered losses of Rs 2-3 lakh per acre; vegetable growers suffered losses to the tune of Rs 1-2 lakh per acre.
N Jyothi, another farmer from Chikkaballapur, says her entire crop of ragi (finger millet) has been wiped out. “Due to the initial rain, the standing crop was flattened. As the rains continued with the cloudy conditions, the earbuds started to sprout. We have lost the harvest. We hope to at least use the straw as fodder for the cattle provided there is no more rain,” she said.
A preliminary estimate by the Department of Agriculture revealed that almost 40% of the 6.88 lakh hectares of standing crops have been wiped out.
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Along with the damage caused by the rains, subsequent weather conditions with high levels of humidity and increased soil moisture completely destroyed the vegetable crops.
“The beet we grew on an acre of land caught fungus. The tomato, chilli and cabbage crop was also completely lost,” said Lakshmamma, a Pillagundlahalli farmer from Sidlaghatta taluk in Chikkaballapur.
Srinivas, a farmer from the nearby village of Nallojanahalli, said the standing water caused his cauliflower crop to “bloom”.
Along with Tumakuru, Chikkaballapur is the most affected district, with Kolar coming third.
Farmers are also dismayed by the current compensations announced by the government.
On average, it costs around Rs 1.5 lakh to grow an acre of tomatoes. The government pays 6,800 rupees per hectare for rain-fed crops and 13,500 rupees 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.
In two days last week, when 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, tomato is now selling at Rs 50 per kg”, adding that it will take at least three months for APMC to come back. to normal.
Poor maintenance of water bodies
The off-season rains also revealed the poor management of water bodies in these drought-stricken regions. The rampant encroachment and degradation of these water bodies and their feeder channels also reflect badly on the Department of Minor Irrigation, the guardian of these water bodies.
“Despite being labeled as drought-stricken, the undivided district of Kolar has over 4,000 water points
body. If they had been well cared for during the drought season, they could
minimized the damage to some extent. Dry soil cannot absorb much water, so it simply runs off. But the network of those 4,000 reservoirs and lakes could have controlled the overflow and held back at least half of it,” said Anjaneya Reddy.
The resulting neglect has seen homes and fields flooded and precious topsoil eroded.
“We lost an opportunity to store and percolate water. It would take us years to get back to normal,” said K Ramu Shivanna and G Narayanaswamy, agricultural leaders in Kolar.
Kolar DC said that in July, the district administration cleared the encroachment of about 40 lakes and was about to continue the process when the rains came. “It’s an ongoing process and requires a lot of conviction,” he said.
Surprisingly, lakes that have been repaired many times in the recent past by the minor irrigation department have also been breached.
“Lake Agrahara Anjaneya near Nallojanahalli has ruptured five times in the last 10 years. Engineers had repaired the lake embankment after spending several crores. But the lake has made another breach. What action is the government going to take against the 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. About three to four feet of topsoil was washed away. Now it will cost several lakhs to fill it with fresh soil so I can grow a new crop “, did he declare.
Villagers alleged that Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, who visited the lake late in the evening while investigating the rain damage, barely had time to listen to the farmers.
Anitha explained: “The Deputy Commissioner who visited the lake a few days before the CM visit told us that she would order soil tests before undertaking any repair work as the problem appears to be in the soil. But so far, no action has been taken. »
The state government has started paying compensation in a few districts. “Even though the investigation is ongoing (it is expected to be completed by November 30), the compensation is being offered simultaneously. The intention is to offer immediate relief,” said Brijesh Kumar Dikshit, Commissioner for Agriculture.
At the same time, the Department of Agriculture also coordinates with insurance companies for timely insurance payouts for localized risks and post-harvest losses. “Payment is expected to start next week,” Dikshit said.
However, data show that take-up of crop insurance schemes has historically been low. This year, only 11.97 lakh hectares of agricultural crops have been insured, out of a total insurable area of 65 lakh hectares.
Many farmers DH encountered during field visits said they felt empty when thinking about the future. A helpline that provides relevant information and even emotional support and counseling would help them through this crisis.
As a preventive measure, state agricultural scientists 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 alter seed dormancy,” said S Rajendra Prasad, Vice Chancellor of the University of Agricultural Sciences from Bengaluru.
(With contributions from Anitha Pailoor at Kolar)