Shifting to other crops after cutting down palms

Farmers in Wayanad are increasingly shifting to other crops after cutting down areca nut palms. Diseases affecting the palms, uncertainty in price of the produce, and dearth of incentives have forced their hand.

Areca nut production in the district had fallen sharply in the past five years due to various crop diseases, especially the yellow leaf disease.

According to data from the Agriculture Department, 80 per cent of the 12,730 hectares under areca nut cultivation had been affected by the yellow leaf disease.

“Nearly 25 per cent of the area under areca nut is under crops such as rice, banana, and oil palm now,” Alex C. Mathew, Deputy Director, Agriculture Department, said.

“I have been cultivating areca nut on one acre for the past 15 years and used to get an average of 20 quintals of nut every year for the first ten years,” Jose of Kandammalil, a small-scale farmer, told The Hindu.

He had now shifted to banana cultivation after cutting down areca nut palms on his land. He said production declined sharply after the spread of the yellow leaf disease and he got only two quintals of nut last year. Similar is the experience of the majority of farmers in the district.

Diseases such as bud rot and nut rot (Mahali) had ravaged the crop in the past five years but the government had not taken any step to compensate the farmers, sources said.

The huge fluctuation in price of the produce in the local market during the harvest season also deterred the farmers from going ahead with areca nut cultivation.

The price of tender areca nut was Rs.76 a kg a few months ago but the spot price in the local market on Monday was Rs.66 a kg, the sources said.

The better price for paddy after the market intervention of the government and the introduction of crops such as oil palm had also encouraged the farmers to bid adieu to areca nut cultivation.

Rumours of a Central government move to ban areca nut products had also hastened the decision of the farmers to shift to other crops.

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