We have had the wettest June in 12 years, according to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD).
Statistics released by the IMD show that India recorded 118% of the Long Period Average rainfall in June 2020, which is considered excess. These copious showers brought cheer to the farming community, despite several regions facing intrinsic challenges such as shortage of labour in the wake of COVID-19 and disruption in supply chains due to intermittent lockdowns.
In many states, both Government and private-owned seed banks ensured that farmers had sufficient seeds to sow. Farmers following sustainable practices noticed an increase in demand for chemical-free produce and native vegetables, fruits and grains, spurred by the need to eat healthy and boost immunity levels in some pockets.
In Hyderabad and other districts of Telangana, where scorching heat prevailed till late June in the last few years, the pre-monsoon showers towards the end of May and monsoon in the first week of June encouraged farmers to prepare their land to sow rain-fed crops.
At Zaheerabad-based Aranya Agricultural Alternatives, which has become the go-to centre for Permaculture, its CEO Padma Koppula has noticed the increased sowing of sorghum, pigeon pea and cotton in nearby areas.
She also witnessed a small but steadily growing demand for foxtail millet and a sizeable demand for seeds and saplings of native fruits and vegetables. “It is good to see more focus on food crops this time; nearly 80 farmers in this region are trying out 30 varieties of fruit saplings,” explains Padma.
- Aranya Agricultural Alternatives, Telangana: Demand for seeds and saplings of mangoes, jackfruit, wild species of phalsa, neem, cashew nut, soursop, custard apple, ginger, turmeric, tree spinach and moringa. Farmers are also growing small bitter gourd, tapioca, vetiver, lemongrass and air potatoes.
- Buffalo Back Collective, Karnataka: Ragi, avarakai (broad beans), groundnut and sesame are among the popular native crops here.
- Farms near Chennai: Seeraga samba, thanga samba, Thanjavur ponni and thooya malli rice.
Paddy cultivation has already begun in Domadugu, Guntapally and other villages near Hyderabad, as well as the cultivation of green and black gram, toor dal , and native vegetables. A few years ago, organic farmer Praveen Abhishetty had begun growing small quantities of fragrant chitti muthyalu , red and black rice varieties. He intends to do so this year as well.
Bengaluru-based Prabhakar Rao, the founder of Hariyalee Seeds, works with farmers across India and affirms planting has begun fairly early owing to the monsoon. “Leading up to the sowing season, the sale of seeds peaked to 300% of our usual volumes,” he states.
Prabhakar also noticed a tangible increase in the demand for chemical-free, safe food following the pandemic outbreak: “Those with diabetes, which is considered a co-morbidity for COVID-19, wanted to start including millets in their diet. Farmers living close to urban areas have been able to sell their produce at apartment complexes and gated communities without middlemen. We don’t know how long this urge to have healthy food will sustain. Right now, people are willing to spend more for good produce since there is no expenditure on eating out, malls and other entertainment. Retail chains are also keen to source native grains and pulses,” he explains.
The golden pearl
Among the grains and pulses finding more takers, Prabhakar lists amaranth, chickpea and cowpea. He has also been at the forefront of reintroducing heritage wheat varieties such as the 2,000-year-old Sona Moti. “This year, farmers in Punjab harvested 60 tonnes of Sona Moti which were pre-sold at ₹ 75/kilogram,” says Prabhakar.
A few other farm communities are treading cautiously. Visalakshi Padmanabhan who founded the Buffalo Back Collective and works from a farm in the vicinity of Bannerghatta in Bengaluru, says the early arrival of monsoon has been a boon. “Since this is a rain-shadow region, farmers here usually prepare for drought. This year, everyone is busy doing their best to harvest the available water. With the help of forest officials, ponds and streams along the elephant corridor were cleaned up; new ponds have also been created. This prevents elephants from venturing into human settlements for water.”
With weekly organic farmers markets in Bengaluru shut due to COVID-19, she says how farmers had to look for alternative ways to reach their consumers.
Rice is nice
In Chennai, organic farmer VM Parthasarathy says while farmers in this belt are happy with the early monsoon, they are concerned about forecasts that suggest the possibility of a flood-like situation in November-December 2020. Memories of 2015 floods still remain fresh. “No one wants to delay planting so that they can harvest before the floods. The lockdown has been tough since we couldn’t exchange seeds within our organic farmer networks in different cities; we have had to find alternatives,” he says.
Nirosha Kathiravan of The Villagers in Vandavasi, near Chennai, has sowed seeragasamba rice for the first time. “We cultivate groundnut, sesame, moong and urad dals too. The monsoon has helped us plant more grass varieties and maize as fodder for our indigenous cattle [milk and milk products are the mainstays of this farm]. The big challenge in this belt is to find labour, which has become tougher due to spread of the pandemic beyond Chennai limits,” she says.
The monsoon has brought new hope and the farming communities look forward to tiding over logistical setbacks and reap good harvests.