In Thiruvathivaimangalam in Tiruvarur, Karmegam, a small-time farmer with one-and-a-half acres of land, is now a wretched man. Despite clear signs as early as in August that water might not be enough for his paddy crop, he decided to go ahead with cultivation in September as he had no other option for a livelihood.
Today, Karmegam’s field has dried up with his crop already turning yellow. “As usual, Karnataka has played its politics. But it is the monsoon that has hurt us more. It is driving us into poverty,” he says, even as his voice cracks over the phone. His name, which means a dark cloud, only adds to the irony of the story.
Like Karmegam, thousands of farmers in over 14 lakh acres in the delta region are looking up at the skies for what they think is now their only saviour: rain. The 12 tmcft of water that Karnataka has been asked to release in December has given them little solace.
Some farmers say this season is perhaps the worst in the last 30 years, even surpassing the drought of 1987 when rains at last saved their plantations. According to them, a host of issues have accentuated their distress. Primary is the failure of Kuruvai, which forced them to bank on Samba to save their livelihood.
“Over the past 10 years, the Northeast monsoon had not failed us. We hoped for the same this year but things have changed,” says Velayudham, a local farmer leader in Thanjavur. Rains in fact has been extremely sparing with only two significant spells between long intervals since September. While further releases in the Cauvery could help the crop immensely, farmers are certain the productivity had already taken a hit.
According to Mannargudi S Ranganathan, general secretary of the Cauvery Delta Farmers’ Welfare Association, the soil needs enough water to absorb the fertilizers applied. In the current situation, that is not happening. “There has to be at least an inch of water on the fields for the application,” he says adding that the situation in the delta was quite bleak.
Though the government offered subsidies to help the farmers cope with deficient water, a large number of them lack water pumps to take advantage of the subsidies. “The fertilizers will go waste without enough water. This will have a telling effect on productivity,” say farmers. In fact, history shows that in the years when the opening of Mettur had been delayed, productivity dropped by one-third.
Farmers who opted for direct sowing - a technique where seeds are sprayed directly into the ploughed field – could perhaps expect better produce. In fact, the government had urged farmers to opt for this technique for Samba. “Direct sowing requires only wetting, which means lesser water usage. Plantations on the other hand need much more water. If there are rains in the coming weeks, we could save much of these crops which are directly sown,” feels Ranganathan.