Agri Business

Once water-rich, now starved

AJ VINAYAK | Updated on January 15, 2018 Published on April 17, 2017

Shekar Shetty of 38-Kaltoor village in Udupi district shows the plight of his paddy field during the rabi season this year AJ Vinayak

Falling levels eps

Monsoon failures and neglect of traditional water sources have been compounded by a ‘borewell mania’

For 52-year-old Shekar Shetty of 38-Kaltoor village in Udupi district of Karnataka, this rabi season is the worst in his three decades as a farmer. Likewise for 67-year-old Gopaldas Karje of Karje village, who has been farming for five decades.

The rabi season’s paddy crop has been a total for them owing to the scarcity of water for their paddy fields, located equidistant between the Udupi coast and Agumbe, the area with the highest rainfall in Karnataka.

Pointing to a well at one end of his farm, Shetty shares his childhood experience of washing buffaloes even till March-April every year. This year, however, it dried up three months ago. Similarly, the water stream near the paddy field has gone dry.

“I harvested 25 quintals of paddy in the rabi season last year, but this season, I didn’t even get 1.5 quintal,” he says.

The paucity of water is also affecting the availability of fodder to feed the cows. The crop failure this year means that farmers like him will have to purchase it for exorbitant amounts.

Some farmers skipped the rabi crop entirely this year. Sharath Madivala from Billadi village of Kundapura taluk in Udupi district says the stress on the water resources forced his family to give up sowing of rabi paddy this year.

Coastal Karnataka, which includes Dakshina Kannada, Udupi and Uttara Kannada districts, covers a 300-km stretch from Karwar of Uttara Kannada in the north to Mangaluru of Dakshina Kannada district in the south. The annual rainfall here ranges from 3,000-4,000 mm.

But with the monsoons failing in recent years, excessive use of ground water sources and developmental activities along the Western Ghat section have added to the stress on water resources.

Honnappa Gowda, Joint Director of Agriculture in Uttara Kannada district, says that around 20,000 hectares in Uttara Kanada district suffered crop loss during the kharif season, given the rainfall deficit of 22 per cent during that period. The deficit was more severe in Haliyal taluk (71 per cent), Yellapur (65 per cent) and Mundagod (64 per cent).

Borewell mania

Shree Padre, a water activist from the coastal region, says the deficit rainfall for the last two seasons has stoked a frenzy among farmers and others to sink borewells in their land without understanding its implications.

Dinesh Holla, coordinator of Sahyadri Sanchaya (a forum of environmentalists), says borewells suck water from everywhere and are impacting the water availability in most parts of the coastal region. Increasingly, water is unavailable even at a depth of 400 ft.

Mapalathota Subraya Bhat, a farmer from Markanja village in Sullia taluk of Dakshina Kannada district, gets water for his mango and arecanut plants from a water stream, but he is worried about the future. “Some 60 borewells were drilled in a 3-km range from my home in the village in recent months. I am worried about the impact of this indiscriminate drilling,” he says.

Traditionally the region was served by water from rivers and streams, tanks and ponds, and open wells. Data put out by the Water Resources Information System of India point to the extent of decline in the ground water in the coastal districts over the years.

The pre- and post-monsoon ground water levels in Dakshina Kannada, Udupi and Uttara Kannada districts narrate a grim tale ( see table). As the data was available at the block level, a sample of one location each from the three districts was taken for 2011 and 2016.

Simple solutions

But even given the gravity of the situation, the farmers haven’t taken to simple solutions like rainwater harvesting. There are a few exceptions, however. DC Chowta, a farmer from Meeyapadavu village in Manjeshwar taluk, has been desilting the open well in his farm. He has also been diversifying away from traditional crops to jackfruit and rambutan.

Venkatakrishna Sharma, a jackfruit grower from Muliya village of Dakshina Kannada district, who pioneered the jackfruit festival in the region, says proper maintenance of tanks can help recharge water sources.

Sandwiched between the coastline and the Western Ghats, many places along the Karnataka coast are today water-starved. Farmers feel that a revival of check dams across streams and rivulets, the desilting of tanks, and the recharging of borewells and open wells during the monsoon can tackle the crisis.

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Published on April 17, 2017
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