THANJAVUR:The life story of every farmer is an epic tale of battle against the elements. Each season they till their land in hope, watch the skies with trepidation and await the results of their toil with fingers crossed. The sons of earth gamble their everything each season, sometimes hitting the jackpot and sometimes nought. With the long-term Samba crop season looming close, the farmers in the Delta districts of the State are readying themselves for yet another round of gambling. However, even before the plough has sunk into the rice bowl, the farmers believe the odds are heavily stacked against them.
After missing out on the money spinner Kuruvai cultivation, the farmers were relying on Cauvery water from Mettur for a bumper Samba harvest. However, the uncertainty over release of water this year has left them apprehensive about their future. Though the customary date of dam opening (June 12) is long past, what casts a shadow of gloom in the delta is low level of storage in the dam, which stood at 94.43 feet last year when the gates were opened on August 9, as against the present level of 62.38 feet as on Friday.
Lack of official word on the release is only adding to the pressure, feel the farmers. P Sukumaran, a farmer from Tirupoonthurthi, says, “The farmers are confused. The water was not released for Kuruvai crop and the government is silent about the preparations for the long-term Samba.” This confusion has resulted in the dwindling of acreage this year. Last season, the Thanjavur farmers brought around 45,000 hectares under Kuruvai cultivation, this year the acreage was a paltry 35,000 hectares. The reason: non-availability of Cauvery water. This despite proactive steps by the administration to incentivise farmers using borewells.
If the government announces a tentative date for the release, it will go a long way in soothing the frayed nerves, as the farmers could get some time to plan their move, says Sukumaran. “If a date is given, farmers can raise saplings for long-duration CR1009 variety in nurseries using borewells. This would help them share the saplings with those dependent on river water,” he adds.
The government decision to make available black gram seeds at depots has sent the rumour mills into an overdrive in the delta, with a section in the area believing this to be a subtle way of pushing the farmers to skip Samba. “Alternative crops like lentils cannot be cultivated in the Delta beyond June-July, as these crops cannot withstand even occasional heavy rains,” points out Arupathy P Kalyanam, general secretary of the Federation of the Cauvery Delta Farmers Association. The way out lies in pressuring Karnataka to release Tamil Nadu’s due share, Kalyanam says.
“Water in the four Cauvery reservoirs in Karnataka is over 56 per cent of their storage capacity. In this scenario, the onus lies on the Union government to direct Karnataka to release water for Tamil Nadu,” he adds.
If farmers managed to salvage some pride by using borewells during the Kuruvai season, they cannot be expected to replicate their earlier exploits for the long-term crop, as Samba is completely dependent on Cauvery for survival. While Kuruvai is regarded as a money spinner, Samba is the staple for the delta farmers, as with increased acreage and prospective yield, the margin of profit is enough to wipe off big debts. But only if the Cauvery trickles down. On an average, 1.06 lakh hectares are brought under Samba crops, while the acreage stands at 27,000 hectares for Thaladi paddy (cultivated after harvest of Kuruvai) in Thanjavur district.
Even if the water is released by August 15-20, the possibility of farmers managing to salvage Samba is very much alive, feels Kalyanam, as they could sow long-term varieties like CR1009. “It generally takes 15 days for water from Mettur to reach the tail-end delta, as the channels and canals are heavy on silt due to officials’ neglect. There was a time when water would trickle down in seven days,” he recalls. Pegging the annual loss of the farming community at `1,000 crore due to erratic release of water, Kalyanam said that if there was any further delay, the future looked bleak as the harvest season would coincide with the north-east monsoon.
There are many permutations and combinations the farmers need to try before deciding on the crops. One factor that has much bearing on the prospects is the monsoon. With a weak south-west monsoon failing to quench the thirst of parched catchments in Karnataka and Wayanad, the farmers there are not cosily placed either, say agro-technologists.
P Kalaivanan, president of Thanjavur unit of the Tamil Nadu senior Agro-technologists Forum, seconds Ranganathan’s surmise. He says the Meteorological Department had predicted 113 per cent above normal rainfall during June-July in the southern peninsula, while it was to be deficient in eastern India. “However the reverse is happening now,” he says, adding that things have come to such a pass this season that even if farmers resorted to direct sowing to save water.
“The long-term varieties should be planted by first week of September. In the case of short-term varieties, they ought to be transplanted before October 15, since the north-east monsoon starts by that time. To save the crop till the onset of north-east monsoon, we need at least 200 TMC and releasing water before that level is reached could prove to be detrimental,” he points out.