VIJAYAPURA: Bijapur, capital of the Adil Shahi dynasty, is famous for historical monuments like Ibrahim Rouza and Bara Kaman among a host of others, as much as it is for the high quality grapes and pomegranates cultivated here now. That the city is on the must-visit list of tourists, and high demand for the fruits stand testimony to these claims.
The heritage city, officially Vijayapura now, had its farmers growing grapes since the 18th century under the patronage of the Nizams of Hyderabad. They went on to add pomegranate as a main cash crop from early 1980s.While for the consumer, grapes may be either sweet or sour, the fruit has turned bitter for their growers, after they seized to be the “apples” they once were. Long dry spells, unseasonal rains and hailstorms coupled with blight, a bacterial disease, have in turns made tending to grapes a nightmarish experience for farmers. The farmers have managed to keep their home fires burning thanks to the lucrative pomegranate, which again had its share of blight attack last year.
The resultant drop in yield as also frequent crashes in prices of the two main fruits cultivated in the district have forced farmers here to look up to the government for support. “A study finding has revealed that farmers in the district have been badly affected because of poor seasons of their mainstay crops in eight of the last 12 years, which has resulted in a number of them landing into serious debts,” a grape grower told The New Indian Express.
They are thus pushing forward their demands as poll issues ahead of the Assembly elections. “It is only if the government takes up our cause and grants our pleas that we can sustain our livelihood,” Prakash Anthargonda says. He adds that he may have to stop growing the fruit in the three acres of land he presently does.
He recalls that the area had bumper crops of the fruit during the late ‘90s before widespread disease and expressive crop management took a toll, resulting in huge losses.“Wholesale merchants and retailers, on the other hand, are making profits as they have cold storage and other such facilities to sell during off season at commanding prices,” he added.Vijayapura fruit farmers want the government to set up free cold storage units when there is a glut, so as to be able to sell the perishables at better prices when the yield drops.
Samsung, Manikya, Sonaka, Supersonaka and Krishna are some popular varieties of grapes cultivated in Vijayapura. A lot of these grown in the Thikota area of the district, and are much sought after in the international market have seen an acute drop in quantity due to adverse climatic conditions.Another vineyard owner Bhimsen Kokare said 17 grape growers had committed suicide in the last 10 years in the district.
“The government grants relief only when over 50 per cent of a standing crop is damaged. That too only in taluks. Relief is not available for damages reported from panchayats or hoblis,” he added. And again, a farmer who has been given relief is not given a loan again, “for they are considered defaulters”.
Spell out your stand: Farmers
Speaking on behalf of the community, the president of National Grape Growers Abaykumar Nagarker demands that the Union government bring changes in National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) norms and consider a panchayat as a block to help farmer get relief.He said they had written to Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to waive off their loans, but “didn’t get any response”.
“As for the state government, it pays us Rs 12,000 per hectare for crop loss, while Maharashtra farmers were paid Rs 27,000 during 2015. We want Government of Karnataka to pay farmers Rs 40,000 per damaged hectare, and also pay up for losses incurred last year, which runs up to Rs 50 crore. Relief to be paid to pomegranate farmers is much higher at Rs 360 crore,”he added.
The disappearing tongawallas
Horse-drawn carts, an integral part of Vijayapura that once flooded the roads as local transport, have considerably reduced. Tongas began getting replaced by their owners with motorised modes like autos, because of the convenience and time-saving. Some have taken up other means of earning a livelihood.
Tubachi-Bableshwar project to usher in new dawn
Vijayapura that faces acute water shortage, apart from reeling under droughts hopes to come out of the misery in a couple of months after the completion of the Tubachi-Bableshwar lift irrigation project that is proposed to irrigate 1.5 lakh acres.
The irrigation project, considered a major one after Upper Krishna Project, will go on to be a lifeline for the district, and a big hope to strengthen the local economy. This, understandably, has raised hopes of farmers here, who plan to change crop patterns.
The district has irrigation projects worth over Rs 5,000 crore and canals running for kilometres in all its taluks. Work on the Thikanata main canal is almost complete, which will add to the over one dozen different projects in place in Vijayapura.