Heavy and incessant rain since the beginning of June till July end in six districts of Malnad and coastal Karnataka has dealt a serious blow to farmers, particularly arecanut growers who have lost considerable quantity of their crop.
Arecanut plantations, spread across 2.27 lakh hectares in these districts, have been affected by the fruit rot disease (Kole Roga) as continuous rain prevented spraying of copper sulphate fluid on arecanut bunches. The fluid had to be sprayed thrice — before the onset of the monsoon, just after the commencement of monsoon and about a month after the second spray — to prevent rotting of tender arecanuts.
“We could only complete the first spray,” said K. Shashishekhar, an arecanut grower in Kerekodige, Koppa taluk, Chikmaglur district. “It had been our daily routine to look at the skies in anticipation of a let-up in rain. However, it poured continuously for 60 days and we watched helplessly tender arecanuts falling down from the trees,” he said.
Amid shortage of labourers, Mr. Shashishekhar collected the fallen arecanuts with great difficulty and gathered them in the courtyard of his house for two reasons. One, to gather whatever produce was available and the other, to prevent further spread of the fungal disease in the plantation. When The Hindu visited Mr. Shashishekhar’s plantation last week, Prabhakar, another arecanut grower in the locality, who was helping spray copper sulphate fluid, said the fluid had to be sprayed to prevent the trees catching the fungal disease.
K. Keshava Rao, Mr. Shashishekhar’s father, said that they used to get about 10 quintals of red arecanut per acre. The disease has completely ravaged the crop. “It is difficult even to get two quintals from an acre now,” he said. Red arecanut used to fetch between Rs. 12,000 to Rs. 15,000 a quintal in the Shimoga market. Mr. Rao is worried over repayment of different loans even as he is afraid that growers cannot lead a normal life for, at least, the next two years.
According to Horticulture Department statistics, arecanut crop in about 88,000 hectares have been affected by the fruit rot disease and the degree of loss ranges from 40 per cent to 70 per cent. The loss is more than 50 per cent in 60,000 hectares, according to sources.
Udupi-Chikmaglur Lok Sabha Member K. Jayaprakash Hegde said that growers have demanded at least Rs. 25,000 per hectare compensation to each farmer. He expected Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who is visiting New Delhi on Monday, to make a specific request with the Union government for generous compensation for crop loss, not only for arecanut growers but all other farmers since a number of crops have been affected by heavy rain.
Sringeri MLA D.N. Jeevaraj said that the proposed compensation was insufficient even to undertake copper sulphate fluid spray, which costs about Rs. 22,000 an acre (for three sprays). He said, “The government is saving hundreds of crores of rupees on purchase of power since the hydroelectric projects have enough water. The same amount could be paid to farmers, not only to arecanut growers but also all those who have lost other crops.”
The downpour and the fruit drop disease
Major arecanut growing districts: Chikmaglur, Shimoga, Uttara Kannada, Udupi, Dakshina Kannada, Kodagu
Total area under cultivation: 2,27,716 hectares
Arecanut plantations affected in 88,000 hectares of land
In 60,000 hectares, more than 50 per cent of the crop has been lost
Rs. 12,000 compensation per hectare if more than 50 p.c. of crop is affected subject to a maximum of two hectares per farmer