Decline in potato cultivation on Kodaikanal hills

By TheHindu on 04 Aug 2017

Acute drought owing to failure of the southwest monsoon has left thousands of potato growers on upper Kodaikanal hill in distress.

With no rain till July end, potato growers in Gundupatti, Mannavanur, Klavarai and nearby villages on the hill have left their land barren. This has led to a sharp decline in the total area under potato cultivation.

A few traditional potato growers, who have little ground water source, have shifted to garlic, which requires less water and maintenance. But they too are struggling to protect the standing crop.

The district received 3.06 mm rain in July, 90% less than the normal rainfall of 30.6 mm. The situation was the same in June.

“Rain water is a must to energise potato crop, which grows on slopes. We should have sown the seeds after the first showers of this monsoon,” said S. Sivakumar of Gundupatti village, 45 km away from Kodaikanal town. “Periodical showers since sowing are also essential to protect the crop. Shortage of rain will affect size and quality of the potato.”

Potato cultivation is a costly affair, he added. “We had to invest heavily. Seeds are imported from Mettupalayam. The price of a seed bag cost Rs. 5,000. At least, we need 10 bags to raise the crop in one acre.”

Farmers had a better yield two years ago, with the procurement price at Rs. 25 a kg. “We hired trucks and mini lorries in Kodaikanal town to transport potato to the market,” he recalled.

Sivakumar suffered a huge loss of Rs. 9 lakh last year because of drought. Each farmer had to shell out at least Rs. 1 lakh to raise potato crop. The yield should have been at least 400 bags, each 45 kg, to get reasonable returns. But it was less than 20 kg. The crops withered completely. “By this time, sowing should have been over. But it is barren now,” he rued.

Several acres of land, traditionally under potato cultivation, in Gundupatti remain barren. Not even 10% of the potato growers have raised the crop this year. Similar situation prevails in other potato growing centres on Upper Kodaikanal. The hill station has been reeling under drought for the second consecutive year. Scanty rain haunts Kaunji, another major potato production centre.

However, farmers, who have little ground water source in Kookal panchayat, have shifted to garlic. Despite the drought, those who had managed to harvest garlic last year enjoyed good returns. They too are struggling to protect the standing crop today.

Talking to The Hindu , Horticulture Officer Shiny Divya said: “Farmers may go for sowing till September or even October. Sharp showers in the last 48 hours may cheer them to sow. But delay in rain will affect quality of crop.”