As borewells run dry, farmers hire tankers to water areca palms

Tankers line up on the banks of Bhadra canal in Hanchina Siddapura near Channagiri in Davangere district to draw water.   | Photo Credit: VAIDYA

Raju Swamy, a farmer from Ajjihalli in Channagiri taluk, sunk 12 borewells on his four hectares of areca plantation but not one has yielded water. He now brings water by tankers from Bhadra canal, located 17 km from his village, to save the palms.

He pays ₹2,000 for tankers of 24,000-litre capacity for each trip. The sub-adult and adult areca palms on one hectare land need at least one lakh litres of water per week for survival. From January third week, he has spent ₹5.5 lakh on hiring tankers.

Tankers galore

With many farmers resorting to this method to water their plantations — even though not authorised — one can see 40 to 50 trucks and tractors mounted with tankers drawing water from Bhadra canal near Hanchina Siddapura, Nallur and Santhebennur villages in Channagiri. This often leads to traffic snarls all around. In some cases water is transported to distances of 40 to 50 km.

“The returns from selling arecanut next year will be lower than what I have spent for bringing the water by tankers. But my focus right now is saving the crop and hoping for good rain in coming days,” he said. Arecanut cultivation that was once considered as profitable venture in Davangere district is now burning holes in the pockets of farmers, owing to successive droughts and failure of pre-monsoon rain.

Deficient rain

From January 1 to May 15, Davangere district received 24 mm rain as against the normal of 70 mm during this period. The deficiency of pre-monsoon rain in the district this time is around 66%. Since January 2019, arecanut crop cultivated on 7,000 acres has completely dried up in the district. As the release of water from Bhadra reservoir along the canals for summer crop is likely to be stopped from May 23, the water crises will aggravate further in the coming days.

Farmers in Davangere district have taken to rapid expansion of areca cultivation in recent times, abandoning traditional crops such as ragi, sunflower, and onion. This was following a boom in areca prices. Lakshmikanth Bommanavar, Deputy Director of Horticulture, told The Hindu that the area under areca cultivation that was at 24,000 hectares in 2000-01 had gone up to 46,000 hectares now. Of these only around 15,000 hectares was in the command area of the Bhadra reservoir. The remaining 31,000-hectare plantation that was dependent on borewells was vulnerable to drought and loss of yield owing to moisture stress caused by shortage of water, he said.

“When the price of arecanut escalated in 2004-05 and when it was fetching more than ₹1 lakh per quintal in August, 2014, many farmers in arid regions of the district shifted to areca. Borewells were sunk to water the areca palms. Indiscriminate drawing of ground water and successive droughts have left the borewells dry,” he said.

“Cultivation of arecanut, a water-intensive crop, in an arid region such as Davangere is not advisable. The Department of Horticulture is promoting the cultivation of less water-intensive crops like mango and cashew here but there are few takers for them,” he said.

Bhaanappa from Madalu village in Channagiri taluk spent ₹4 lakh in 2019 to bring water for his two-hectare arecanut plantation from Bhadra canal, near Nallur. Running out of resources, he has not stopped fetching water. “I have already borrowed ₹3.5 lakh to save the crop. I cannot afford to purchase more water. If the plantation dries up, I will go back to ragi cultivation,” he told this correspondent.

Tanker business

The increasing demand for fetching water from the canal has resulted in the tanker business becoming a profitable one.

Narayanaswamy, who once transported milk in his tanker in Ramanagaram and now ferries water in Davangere, says milk yield is lower in summer and he does not get sufficient business in his native district. He says that more than 600 tankers are operating in Channagiri taluk alone.

The Bhadra Command Area Development Authority(CADA) though periodically issues warning against drawing of the water from the canal for commercial crops in non-command areas, desperate arecanut growers are not any paying heed.

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Printable version | Dec 3, 2021 6:52:53 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/as-borewells-run-dry-farmers-hire-tankers-to-water-areca-palms/article27174279.ece

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