Shift to other horticultural crops, suggests Central team

Coconut palms cultivated on over 15,789 hectares of land in 11 major districts have withered due to severe drought in Karnataka from 2010–11 to July 2013, and the average number of coconuts per palm has reduced from 80 to between zero and 10.

A Central team, led by Horticulture Commissioner, Union Ministry of Agriculture, Gorak Singh, which visited the affected plantations in the State during July 26–29 noted that 2,04,700 farmers had been affected by the damage to palms.

More than 1.65 lakh palms had withered or damaged while the area under palms suffering from more than 50 per cent yield loss was over 1.49 lakh hectares. The area under coconut palms in the State is 4.91 lakh hectares and the current production is 60,444 lakh coconuts.

16-page report

The team, which has submitted a 16-page report to the State government, recommended removal/uprooting of withered and disease-affected palms.

In the absence of assured irrigation, it suggested introduction of alternative horticultural crops such as mango, guava, jackfruit, jamun, tamarind, custard apple and pomegranate which are more resistant to the impact of drought and less water consuming. It said: “No new coconut plantations should be taken up in non-irrigated/rainfed areas.”

Additional Chief Secretary and Development Commissioner V. Umesh told The Hindu that the 10-member team visited Chamarajangar, Bangalore Rural, Chickballapur, Hassan, Kolar, Tumkur, Mandya, Ramanagaram, Chikmagalur, Chitradurga and Mysore districts.

“Continuous dry spell (low rainfall, high temperature, less number of rain days and low humidity) from 2010–11 to July 2013 has affected the palms, bringing down the yield. An average weight of coconuts has been reduced from 400–600 gm to 100–200 gm,” the report said.

Moisture stress

On account of severe moisture stress, several palms dried up and many of them showed reduction in the crown size. Plantations on ridges, uplands, and unfertile soil were more prone to drying and dying, the report said.

The report said incidence of attacks by pests such as black-headed caterpillar, red palm weevil and rhinoceros beetle was observed and it was aggravated in certain pockets. Stem bleeding and basal stem rot (Ganoderma wilt) were also observed in some areas.

Noting that water harvesting and conservation practices were practically absent, the team said borwell recharging was hardly being practiced. Farmers had not availed of crop insurance owing to lack of awareness and cumbersome procedure, it said.

Recommendations

The team said wherever irrigation facility was assured in the existing coconut plantations, attempts need to be made to rejuvenate/replant the palms. Moreover, dwarf and hybrid varieties need to be introduced, it said.

Intercropping

Since farmers are growing palms as a mono crop, that too without much care, the panel suggested promoting intercropping. It told the government to control diseases by adopting integrated pest management and integrated nutrient management measures on a mission mode by holding special campaigns.

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