The impact of the cyclonic storm Gaja, particularly on perennial crops such as coconut in the Cauvery Delta region, appears insurmountable. Coconut farmers do not see light at the end of the tunnel at this juncture as more than 80 per cent of the trees, many over 20 years old, have fallen flat.
Further, as coconut is not a seasonal crop, and most farmers in the Delta region had inherited the holdings from their forefathers, the crop is not covered under any insurance policy. The fear of a life-time loss therefore looms large among the coconut farmers, as they cannot visualise replanting of trees in the near future.
Apart from replanting, the gestation period, they say, could be another long wait before they see revenue from their holdings.
Pradhan Mantri's Fazal Bima Yojana (crop insurance scheme) incidentally provides cover only for seasonal crops and not perennial crops.
A cross section of farmers that this correspondent could reach said “they have lost everything – home, cattle and all.”
Damage worse than Vardah
Department experts said that the impact of the landfall was far more severe than Vardah, which hit select districts in the State in 2016. “Gaja has impacted the entire Cauvery Delta region severely damaging agricultural crops such as coconut, banana and sugarcane besides standing crops like paddy. The damage has been extensive in the Pudukottai districts - Alangudi, Aranthangi, Peravurani and Pattukottai coconut belt.”
While the extent of the damage could not be assessed at this point in time, the devastation has left the victims speechless and many are not sure when life would return to normalcy. People in and around Pudukottai voiced fear of further disruption in rescue operation as the the Met department has predicted more rains in the coming days.
Destruction to crop and animal particularly in the Nagapattinam, Thanjavur, Tiruvarur, Pudukottai belt is said to be huge.
Almost five days after the storm, many of the remote pockets in Pudukottai area continue to remain cut off with no power or water.
The Chairman of the Coconut Producer Company in Thanjavur, Kalai Selvan said that more than 80 per cent of the palms in the region were uprooted, affecting the livelihood of the small and marginal farmers.
Initial estimates show that around 75 lakh trees were damaged either fully or partially in the gale winds.
“We have asked the Coconut Development Board to take up the matter with the Union Agriculture Ministry to enable us get the maximum compensation. The crop loss estimated by the state government was around ₹3000 crore. But is it going to take years to recover from the damage,” he said.
Coconut palms uprooted
The Coconut Development Board has meanwhile estimated the loss of coconut palms to 18,100 hectares against 56,000 hectares in the four regions. The production per hectare in Thanjavur was 18,372 nuts, Nagapattinam (10,170/ hectare), Thiruvarur (18,440/hectare) and Pudukottai (11,855/hectare). All these figures are much higher compared to the national productivity average of 10,803/ hectare.
Rajeev Bushan, Director, Coconut Development Board, Regional Office, Chennai said that the farmers were demanding compensation between ₹20,000 to ₹25,000 per tree, as in the case of the package given to farmers who had surrendered their land for the development of the Chennai-Salem road project.
“We have communicated all the data to the head office in Kochi for further action. We are awaiting a directive,” he said.
Tamil Nadu, which has the third largest area-under-coconut after Kerala and Karnataka, is the second largest producer of the nuts due to higher yields. Tamil Nadu tops the yield chart with an estimated 14,655 nuts per hectare, according to provisional estimates for 2017-18 released by the Agriculture Ministry.
India's coconut production during 2017-18 stood at 24,378 million nuts from an acreage of 20.98 lakh hectares.