Small farmers have neither resources to invest in borewells nor go for well irrigation

Life has been brought to a virtual standstill in Chawadal village in Haveri district by the truant monsoon. Manjunath Soorvagi (35), who would have normally sown maize and cotton in his five acres of unirrigated land by early June, only sowed in late July this year. “I could not have delayed sowing any longer because the Bt cotton seeds that I had would have turned sterile,” he says.

About his cotton crop, Manjunath says, “Even if it rains in the next few days, it will be too late.”

He reckons the subsidised maize seeds he bought recently from the State Agriculture Department will only yield fodder.

“That may not be such a bad thing after all, because fodder is in such short supply here,” he says.

Small and marginal farmers in the mostly unirrigated area say they have neither the resources to invest in borewells nor the wherewithal to cope with the risks of well irrigation.

The plight of Basappa (45), an agricultural worker, is far worse. With the loss of the main Kharif crop, the crucial months of employment of June-July, when wages for male workers is about Rs.80-100 a day, is lost.

Haveri district received rainfall between June 1 and August 3, 55 per cent below normal.

In Savanur taluk, where Chawadal is located, rainfall is almost 60 per cent below normal.

The last time Manjunath and Basappa found work at a worksite under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) was in January-February, when they got work for about 45 days. Manjunath plans to go to Hubli to work on a construction site, where he hopes to earn Rs. 250 a day.

Pakkirappa Aihole, member of the gram panchayat, said only 100 people (mostly men) in the village got employment on the MGNREGS project to desilt a tank in the village, which commenced a week ago. “Only a few people in the village have job cards,” he says.

Migration by Dalits

Dalits, who account for about one-sixth of the population of Chawadal, migrate as far away as Goa in search of work.

“Dalit youth, who spend seven months in a year away from the village, would prefer to stay in the village if the MGNREGS works effectively and consistently,” he says.

However, Pakkirappa says migration is the preferred option for most Dalits because it offers a temporary escape from caste oppression in the village. Dalits are barred from the local temple; in hotels and in tea shops they face the humiliation of the well known “two-tumbler” system.

For 50-60 women in the village, work at a spinning mill located 25 km away came as deliverance a few months ago. For a working day that starts at 7 a.m. and ends at about 5 p.m., they are paid Rs. 90.

“This is not much more than our earnings as farm workers, but with no work in the village, what other option do we have,” asks Lakshmavva Kalkond (25).

An Agriculture Department official in Haveri confirmed that the kharif crop would be “substantially less” this year.

“Farmers have been advised to grow short-duration crops, shift to crops such as maize or minor millets, which are less affected by adverse weather conditions, or to sow early for the next rabi crop,” he said.

On either side of the 30-km stretch along the road from Hubli to Bijapur, as far as the eye can see, the light black soil has been neatly tilled but not yet sown. The Malaprabha canal, which is supposed to irrigate villages such as Are Kurahatti, (Navalgund taluk in Dharwad district), is bone-dry. People in the village, which is at the tail end of the canal system, have given up hope. At the end of July, the Malaprabha reservoir had 5.89 TMC of water, 15 per cent of its gross storage capacity of 37.73 TMC.

D.K. Lakkanavar, whose joint family owns 25 acres (growing sunflower, maize and wheat), says sowing normally commences in mid-July when water in the canal reaches the village.

Ravi (35) a farmer who cultivates on 20 acres of land, says the State government’s loan waiver scheme would not benefit him because his loans are much bigger than the Rs. 25,000 set by the government.

Using machines

People in the village complained that earthmoving equipment was used recently to desilt a pond in the village. “Why could human beings, who are facing one of the worst droughts in recent years, not been provided work to do the same job,” asks Manlasaab Adeen a landless worker.

He says payment of MNREGA wages payments are being delayed by 15 days.

Varun Lakkanavar (54), a large landowner, gram panchayat member and also a contractor, says, “The gram panchayat was short of funds and the Zilla Parishad decided to get the work done using machinery.”

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