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Updated: August 24, 2013 12:59 IST

Litmus test for acid lime farmers

S. Annamalai
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A woman displays waste acid lime fruits near a grove that is withering away due to water scarcity in Siruvachur of Perambalur district. Photo: A.Muralitharan
The Hindu A woman displays waste acid lime fruits near a grove that is withering away due to water scarcity in Siruvachur of Perambalur district. Photo: A.Muralitharan

Adoption of drip irrigation has transformed the fortunes of many farmers in Perambalur

G.Paulraj of Siruvachur stands near a 60- foot-deep well with his fingers crossed. To his right are rows of acid lime trees that have escaped extinction in the area. On the fringe are a few trees that have started to wither away. The well, where work is under progress, promises to breathe a new lease of life. So far, Paulraj has spent over Rs.5 lakh on the new source of water. The investment is not for the income of about Rs.1 lakh he hopes to reap from acid lime per year but to save the trees he has been nurturing since 1995.

The scene is not unique to Siruvachur. Elsewhere in the district, in places like Chettikulam, Esanai, Naranamangalam, Agaram, and Thondamanthurai, acid lime trees that have died for want of water are cut down. At some places, the green hue of groves is transforming into deep brown. Unlike other crops, with the exception of coconut, if the trees are lost — acid lime is lost forever. The crop has to be raised anew and the trees start to yield fruits after an agonising wait. This year’s prolonged dry spell has cast a pall of gloom in areas cultivating acid lime.

Acid lime cultivated in Perambalur district is transported to the wholesale market in nearby Tiruchi every day. On better days, farmers harvest lime fruits almost daily and sell the stock at prices ranging from 50 paise to Re. 1 a piece. Depending on availability and demand, lime is sold at higher prices in the retail market. The crop is raised on 400 hectares of land in the district and over 100 trees occupy an acre of land.

R. Krishnamoorthy, another acid lime farmer, has been able to save his crop through use of drip irrigation. Though he has sustained his crop for about 15 years in drips, he says this year’s water scarcity is very acute. Sustained water supply is essential to protect acid lime but areas that depend solely on well irrigation have reported failure. But farmers anticipate good rainfall next year. Mr. Krishnamoorthy wants the government to provide quality seedlings, agricultural inputs, and subsidy to raise the crop to rejuvenate acid lime in the district.

The government should supply free seedlings, as was the case in Cuddalore district when cyclone Thane struck, to revive acid lime cultivation, says Raja Chidambaram, State secretary, Tamizhaga Vivasayigal Sangam.

A change in mindset can bring about a transformation in acid lime cultivation. Officials are confident of expanding the area under cultivation through adoption of drip irrigation. The Department of Horticulture has been conducting awareness programmes all over Perambalur district on the need to switch to drip irrigation to save water-intense crops. “We are ready to offer drip irrigation facility at 100 per cent subsidy for small and marginal farmers who own below five acres of land under National Horticulture Mission and free saplings,” says M.Indira, Deputy Director of Horticulture (in charge). Over 500 hectares of land in the district has so far been covered by drip irrigation.

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