After having borne the brunt of bird flu and armyworm attack, Kuttanad is facing another grave danger — drought. Scarcity of rain and and poor irrigation facilities have forced many farmers to abandon the crop half way through.
Hundreds of hectares of paddy farms at several places have already been affected by drought, with many more areas under severe threat of dry weather. Paddy fields in Chengannur, Charummoode, Chennithala, and Mavelikara are among the worst hit.
Alappuzha Principal Agricultural Officer A.G. Abdul Kareem said 1,500 hectares of paddy fields have been affected so far. “Forty to fifty-day old plants have been damaged under severe drought conditions. There is another dimension to the tragedy. A lot of activities, including removal of weeds and distribution of manure, which involve manual labour, have also ceased.”
It would mean loss of labour to hundreds of people, posing threat to weaker sections of society that depend on farm labour for livelihood. The situation has dealt a heavy blow to the labourers who have been trying to recoup from the hardships brought by demonetization.
“Farmers are in deep distress as they are not getting timely help,” says Father Thomas Peelianikkal, Executive Director of Kuttanad Vikasana Samithi. “Several areas are experiencing drought conditions. Farmers in Alappuzha district are yet to get paddy procurement price of Rs.69 crore. They need money to buy pesticides and fertilizers for the ongoing crop. Monetary restrictions imposed after demonetization have resulted in limited cash availability.”
He said paddy farming in 600 acres in Puthanarayiram have been abandoned with the authorities failing to strengthen the bund separating the backwaters. The bund had breached in certain locations, but the repair work could not be executed despite official promises.
Incursion of brackish water into paddy fields has also posed problems to farmers in different areas. Though the shutters of Thanneermukkom bund have been closed as per directions of Alappuzha District Collector Veena N. Madhavan, there have been complaints of obstructions created by fisherfolk by means of keeping boulders underneath the shutters in certain areas to let the salty water in.
There had been a tussle between farmers and fishermen over the closure of bund as the latter argued that the act would hit prospects of fishing. The Collector visited the bund on Tuesday and instructed officials to ensure closure of the shutters fully.