Apart from the serious shortfall in banana output, the Tamil Nadu Banana Growers’ Federation apprehends a slump in new plantation this year.
G. Ajeethan, general secretary of the federation, told The Hindu on Monday that times have become uncertain for banana growers, especially because of the serious drought and nil flow in the Cauvery. Hence it is quite unlikely a large section of farmers will undertake this virtual adventure this year.
Even during 2012 , he explained, planting had not been done at least in 20 per cent of the total banana area of two lakh acres in the State. In the tsunami-affected Cuddalore district, more than 30,000 acres had not been planted at all. Thus at present, banana had been raised only in about 1.6 lakh acres (Composite Tiruchi district-40,000 acres, Theni-30,000 acres, Thoothukudi-25,000 acres, and Cuddalore-8,000 acres)
He said that the fear of water scarcity, especially in Cauvery-dependent districts such as Erode, Namakkal, Karur, Tiruchi, Thanjavur, Pudukottai, and Perambalur, is definitely haunting the 80,000 banana farmers. Power supply has also become extremely uncertain. “Banana requires an investment of Rs. 50,000 per acre and is both water and labour intensive.”
The water demand doubles if the temperature touches 35 degrees Celsius. Already several districts on the banks of the Cauvery are experiencing around 40 degrees Celsius. While banana can survive between 15 deg C to 35 deg C, the failure of monsoon coupled with poor groundwater potential has hurt the crop seriously. A banana fruit requires 200 litres of water.
The major reason for banana being raised on the Cauvery banks is the moisture content in the soil due to the aquifers. With nil flow in the Cauvery, total banana coverage might slump in the Cauvery belt, he said.
He admitted that despite considerable advice, the farmers in the Cauvery belt do not opt for drip irrigation. This could have been of immense help to them in the long run but most of them are unwilling to invest considerable sum in this regard.
On the summer showers, he said “we are praying God that we will be blessed with a few showers. A couple of showers would be able to stop the decay and avert further damage but the loss inflicted cannot be reversed. So far we have managed more because of the groundwater. But next season beginning June-July is going to be far worse.”
Asked about the current harvest, he said the “maturity levels” of the fruits are poor. “For instance, as against the normal weight of 20 kg per bunch of fruits, the current yield is only around 12 kg.” Normal yield per acre is 18-20 tonnes. “This is going to be substantially less this year.”
At the same time, the prices have also stated declining. “It is almost 20 per cent less than what it fetched in February-March.”
He also explained the normal phenomenon that when citrus fruits such as orange are doing well thanks to the high temperature, the heat has a diametrically opposite effect on banana. He hoped that the State government would help these farmers by extending some compensation from the Disaster Fund.
He laments that the State Government normally concentrates only on paddy by paying insurance premium but similar treatment is not extended to banana.