Cultivable area fast dwindling in Madurai

Cultivable area or the green cover in Madurai district is shrinking that over the last decade, it has come down by almost forty per cent. Many farmers' are using own water source for irrigation. A view taken near Samayanallur railway over bridge in Madurai on Sunday.   | Photo Credit: G_Moorthy

Sixty-nine-year-old Paramasivam, a farmer from Vadipatti block in Madurai, has an important question for Public Works Development engineers.

While submitting a petition to Collector S. Natarajan at the recent weekly grievance day meeting, he asked him: Where is the water for irrigation?

Speaking to The Hindu, he said, over the last 10 to 15 years, a majority of cultivable land in the district had shrunk due to various reasons. Out of the 13 revenue blocks, water from Mullaperiyar reservoir was fed into channels to benefit only five blocks - Vadipatti, Madurai East, Madurai West, Alanganallur and Melu.

Cultivable area fast dwindling in Madurai

Armed with data obtained from Agriculture and Revenue departments, he said that in Madurai East block alone the cultivable area was 8,800 hectares in 2011. It shrunk to 2,570 ha in 2017 (due to drought) and in 2018, it stood at less than 6,500 ha, which means it had almost halved in less than six years.

When this was the input from the agriculture officers, PWD officials maintained that water was released for 8,800 ha. When the actual water released or water consumed was only for 2,570 ha in 2017 and 6,500 ha in 2018 (as per records), how is that the PWD maintained it was right.

Mr. Paramasivam again approached the PWD officials. They came up with a different interpretation this time, stating that water meant for irrigation was being distributed for drinking purpose. They even cited that residents in Theni district opposed the diversion by Madurai Corporation through a drinking water project that was built at a whopping cost of ₹1,100 crore.

In many blocks, particularly in Madurai East, what was once classified as agriculture land had been reclassified for housing and industrial use in the recent years, he noted.

Technology comes handy

An agriculture official said that though cultivable area had shrunk by almost 50% in the district, the yield had not come down. On the contrary, farmers have gained with the aid of technology. In the beginning of 2000, when the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) technique was launched, only 5% of farmers evinced interest to switch over from conventional method. Today, over a period of 15 years, almost 70% of paddy growers have taken to the SRI technique. Not only do they save on cost, but water and labour too were minimal, the officer said.

Cultivable area fast dwindling in Madurai

Former Additional Director (Agriculture) S. Kanagaraj said that rainfall pattern decided the extent of cultivable area. It differed from season to season. With global warming, within the district, rainfall levels varied from one location to another, thus depriving farmers of getting full benefit from rain, he added.

Summer rain good

An agriculturist, Vijayrajan, said that based on the normal rainfall data they should get 20% of the annual rainfall from January to May and 80% rainfall during the two monsoons.

Sharing a few key points from the data furnished, he said, the important things were: “In the last 15 years, during winter (January - February), we received more than the normal rainfall of 35.40 mm only in two years. Although this season accounted for only about 4 % of the expected annual rainfall, a couple of good wet spells during these months helped save paddy crop and other rain dependent crops. The last time the district received some decent rains was in February 2013 with 41.83 mm. The summer (March - May) rain had actually been the only season where we received average rainfall above the normal expected rainfall (at 135%). While this is helpful, the rainwater doesn’t get stored in tanks and percolates into the ground and evaporates quickly due to the summer heat.”

Further, Mr. Vijayrajan said that during the two monsoon seasons, the region usually received about 80% of its annual rainfall. “The rainfall over the years (2004 -17) is close to the average at 89% (S.W) and 98% (N.E) respectively. However, the average doesn’t tell the whole story since there has been very large variations in particular years. Especially, the N.E. monsoon had seen a large excess in three years - 2005, 2010 and 2011, and had averaged the poor rainfall in other years. The N.E. monsoon after being excess in 2011 had been below average for an extended period since 2012 onwards (30% below normal from 2012-2017).”

The N.E monsoon is the most important for our region since it not only accounts for about 46% of annual rainfall but is largely responsible for agriculture and groundwater recharge. This deficit from 2012 onwards had largely led to the failure and distress in agriculture and in the depleting groundwater table.

The Madurai Corporation can examine modalities to introduce turn system from January 2019 as storage in Vaigai dam stands at less than 60 feet. We can expect water into the dam from Mullaiperiyar only by June 2019 when the S.W. monsoon sets in, he says.

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Printable version | Jun 13, 2021 8:00:13 PM |

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