Drought and cyclone: Twin trouble for south TN farmers

Devastated: A washed-away road at Suchindram in flood-hit Kanyakumari district, Tamil Nadu on Friday   -  PTI

Chennai, December 1

From a drought to being lashed by a cyclone, it has been a savage swing in climatic conditions for south Tamil Nadu.

Cash and plantation crop farmers in Kanyakumari district were just recovering from the worst drought last year and looking forward to a good harvest this December. But Cyclone Ockhi has poured cold waters on their hopes, wreaking severe damage as it spun across the district.



Rubber takes a beating



R Ravi, Kanyakumari District Secretary, Tami Nadu Vivasayigal Sangam, said this is the worst damage the district has witnessed in a long time. The cyclone has laid waste acres of banana farms. Rubber, a major crop in the area, has been devastated, with trees thousands of uprooted. Ploughed land, ready for planting, now lies under water.

Cash and plantation crops like coconut, rubber and banana are widely grown in this part of the State. Rubber and coconut are grown on close to 25,000 hectares and banana on 6,400 hectares. The district, which is usually blessed with an average rainfall of 1,443 mm, received only 922 mm in 2016. This affected the yield of rubber trees even as coconut trees and banana plantations withered away.

Ravi said that “rubber and banana farmers were the worst affected due to last year’s drought.” As amny as 250 rubber trees on planted on one acre, and this produces 8 kg of latex per day. A farmer gets ₹120/kg. Though there is not much in terms of investment, a rubber farmer spends close to ₹2,500 per tree for the first five years. But last year due to lack of rain, the yield went down by 25 per cent and farmers incurred huge losses.

“This year it is going to be worse because a vast number of trees have been uprooted by the cyclone,” he added. “For example in an acre, we estimate that close to 30 per cent will be gone.”



Wilting prospects for banana



O Perumpadaiyar, a banana farmer in Valliyoor that borders Kanyakumari and a member of All India Kisan Sabha, owns a five-acre plot on which he grows bananas on three acres. He grows export varieties like nendran and rasakathali that are shipped to Gulf countries. “Bananas are high-yielding crops with an input cost of ₹80,000. With good rain, a farmer can earn up to ₹1.5 lakh per year,” he added.

But last year most banana farmers lost ₹50,000 an acre. While rain is a major factor, winds too wrecked havoc last year uprooting trees. “We lost a lot of trees and even the few we saved were unable to get a good price,” he said. Market price of banana is ₹40/kg. But farmers barely get ₹10. “Since bananas are perishable, we cannot store them and wait for the price to go up,” Perumbadaiyar said.

N Chellasamy, a farmer from Kanyakumari, laments that this year nothing will be left to save as the cyclone has uprooted the trees. “This is the harvest time for us. We will lose all our money,” he said.

Though coconut trees have fared better in this cyclone, they were badly affected by the drought. P Velmayil grows 300 coconut trees on his three-acre land. When the rain is good to moderate, each tree gives close to 200 nuts, which he sells at ₹5 each. “We usually use it for paying loans,” he said. Last year, when wells and groundwater sources dried up, close to 30 per cent of the trees began to wilt.



Relief funds



V Ayyadurai, another coconut farmer, said: “Now, we have double the loan and no way to pay since the trees will take another two years to yield.”

For these farmers, getting relief fund is a challenge. While plantation crops have insurance schemes, cash-crop farmers are yet to get relief funds. An official, who agrees that the coconut yield was affected this year, said that though drought relief funding is not available for coconut farmers, they can get the subsidy offered by the State for removal and replanting of tress.

Ravi said that even with relief measures, majority of farmers will not be benefited as they work on leased land with no formal documentation. Most of the leasing is a traditional practice. “Since funding can be got only by those with documentation, these farmers will be even more stressed,” he added. “It is very difficult for farmers to recover from this loss.”

This is the fourteenth in the series on Farm Distress. The first report appeared on November 16. The previous article appeared on November 30, on the cotton crisis in Telangana.

Published on December 01, 2017

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