Burnt flowers to cashew crunch

As summer peaked earlier than usual, cashew flowers got burnt before maturing into fruit, leading to farmers incurring huge loss.
Cashew farmer
Cashew farmer A Sakthivel taking a look at his crop at Melmampattu village in Cuddalore.(Photo | Sriram R, EPS)

CUDDALORE: Disappointment and frustration are writ large in the face of A Sakthivel, a cashew farmer from Melmampattu village near Panruti in Cuddalore district, as he dries the meagre number of cashew nuts collected from his farm. With droplets of sweat dripping down his eyebrows, the 47-year-old farmer stares at his villain this season - the scorching sun.

“I usually harvest four to five sacks of cashews from one acre of land and the revenue the crop brings will be at least four times higher than my expenditure. But this year, the situation is different, blame it on the adverse weather conditions and the deficit monsoon in December, I was able to collect just a bag of cashews from an acre, affecting my income badly,” says Sakthivel, adding he got just Rs 8,500 as revenue after spending Rs 10,000 for an acre.

The expenses, the dejected farmer says, include paying Rs 400 to Rs 600 a day for the farmhands for the labour-intensive work associated with farming like clearing weed, controlling pests, collecting fruits, drying and sorting based on size and texture and packing.

Sakthivel’s is not just a lone case. The summer has battered hard on many farmers in the district which has the highest number of farmers engaged in the cultivation of cashew in the state. The region’s natural red sand is conducive for cashew growth and gives the fruit a unique flavour.

As the summer peaked earlier than usual, flowers in the trees got burnt before maturing into fruit, leading to significant reduction in the yield. Whether it is Panruti, Kurinjipadi, Neyveli, Virudachalam, Parangipettai or nearby villages, the farmers have the same ‘burnt-out’ tale to say.

Cashew farmer
(Photo | Sriram R, EPS)

As per official figures, cashew is cultivated in 21,000 hectares in the district, with an average annual yield of nearly 20,000 tonnes, and around 50,000 families directly depend on cashew farming and related activities for their livelihood. Traders say the district accounts for an annual cashew business of around Rs 2,000 crore.

C Kuppusamy, another cashew farmer from Keezhmampattu, says their long road of worries originated in December last when the region received deficit rain.

“Usually flowers sprout on cashew trees in December and the harvesting takes place from April to June. However, this year, the region started experiencing scorching temperatures from March onwards, causing the cashew flowers to burn despite planting high-yielding varieties,” he says, adding most of the land under cashew cultivation is rain-fed and the inadequate rain has made the trees weak. “Otherwise, they may have withstood the intense heat better.”

Cashew farmer
(Photo | Sriram R, EPS)

Not just the farmers, those involved in allied works and trades are also in dire straits owing to the climatic change. T Dhanalakshmi, a resident of Kadampuliyur, claims she used to get Rs 650 for breaking and cleaning a sack of cashew. “But this year, due to the low yield, work opportunities have come down. Now, we are getting work only once in a while,” she points out.

The situation has affected us as well, says V Narayanan, a vendor from Panruti. “The cashew available here now is not up to the mark in terms of quality, and it will fetch only low price. If we don’t stock for our buyers, it will affect our business, not just this year, but in the coming years as well. To tackle this, we are now buying cashews from other states and selling them to our regular customers,” he says.

Cuddalore district horticulture department deputy director S Arun said out of the 1,500 hectares of farmland with drip irrigation facilities in the district, 600 hectares are cashew farms. “A 100% subsidy for drip irrigation has been provided to micro and mini farmers cultivating in areas less than five acres. Having a borewell in farm is essential to avail of the facility. Farmers interested in this support can contact the horticulture department,” he adds.

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