Tamil Nadu

Water shortage triggers paradigm shift in cultivation in delta region

A file photo of the dry Cauvery riverbed in Tiruchi.  

From what was once a three-season mono crop paddy cultivation in the Cauvery delta region for over 2,000 years, things have changed rather dramatically for the farmers in the last few years. The vagaries of water availability have now forced the farmers to shift their cultivation pattern to ensure that they reap at least one harvest during the current year. While Kabini, Harangi and Hemavathy reservoirs in Karnataka put paid to the hopes of kuruvai paddy cultivation in delta, samba is under threat from the proposed Mekedatu and Rasimanal reservoirs, say delta farmers who fear complete loss of livelihood resources.

Till about four decades ago, farmers in the delta used to go in for kuruvai and thalady paddy crop in certain areas even as others took up the long-term samba cultivation. “That was when Mettur dam used to be opened regularly around June or July for kuruvai paddy cultivation in delta and coupled with a reasonably beneficial north east monsoon we could cultivate two crops at least. With the construction of Kabini, Hemavathy and Harangi reservoirs in Karnataka then, kuruvai came under severe threat. This year even samba is in danger resulting in loss of production and jobs for lakhs of farm labourers,” points out secretary of Thanjavur District Cauvery Farmers’ Protection Association Swamimalai S. Vimalnathan.

The short duration kuruvai paddy crop was cultivated on about four lakh acres in the delta region. The cultivation area came down to less than a quarter of that extent. The slump was precisely due to meagre inflows into the Mettur dam and the subsequent irregular opening of the dam for delta cultivation. “In reality, construction of the dams in the upper reaches of Karnataka prevented water flow effectively depriving us of our livelihood,” rues the vice-president of the CPI (M)-affiliated Tamil Nadu Vivasaya Thozhilalar Sangam V. Jeevakumar.

Water scarcity has forced on the delta farmers a paradigm shift in their cultivation pattern. Farmers had to skip the traditional nursery and transplantation method and resort to direct sowing of paddy, as usually happens in the rain-fed areas. Second, mechanised farming has come to effectively replace manual labour-oriented farm practices. Third, farmers have also moved from conventional paddy cultivation to the System of Rice Intensification method which could be undertaken with less water. Finally, the meagre water availability has pushed the delta farmers this year to raise medium and short duration paddy varieties instead of the usual long term varieties.

“Present day water availability has pushed us to the wall and we are cultivating medium (135 days crop) varieties such as CO (R) 50, CO 43, ADT 38, ADT 39 and ADT 46 and short term varieties such as ADT 43, ADT 45 and Anna 4 varieties for this samba season. Produce could be there but what about the market and price,” wonders a progressive farmer V. Pattabiraman of Thirunageswaram near Kumbakonam.

Unfortunately, paddy is the only crop that could withstand rain and come up in the clay soil that largely marks the delta region. That was why generations have remained tethered to paddy crop cultivation in the delta for well over 2,000 years. That was when water was available aplenty, but now that is a sad story. From luxurious cultivation practices to frugal use of water, the delta farmer has come a long way and has truly transformed himself.

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