ARIYALUR: Everyone else may love a good drought, but not the victims who stare at a dim future. As serious drought looms large over South India, farmers live in distress and despair fearing a steep drop in acre age and yields. There may have been a few temporary measures by governments to compensate the dam ages, but that may be too little too late.
ET’s team of reporters walked the country roads to gauge the mood among farmers.
Here’s a first of our series on one of the biggest agrarian crises facing the South
Farmers living through the unbearable drought in Tamil Nadu believe their stories need to be told, with some approving of the dramatic protests by a small bunch in New Delhi and others feeling let down by them. A strike called by the opposition DMK recently is seen as necessary in applying pressure on the government to meet the demands of farmers.
Since the harvest of 2015, farmers in the rain-fed areas of the state have been affected by deficient rainfall by both northeast as well as southwest monsoon. In the latest budget speech, finance minister D Jayakumar said Tamil Nadu was to be among those with huge tracts of agrarian land dependent on rain about 57%.
“Why would I not support the protests?“ farmer Suresh Duraiswamy questions aggressively , amid the oppressive heat near his cane farm in Ariyalur, a district north of the paddy fields of Thanjavur, which is mainly into sugarcane, corn, drumsticks, chilli and other vegetables.
Vast tracts lie deserted in Ariyalur, as in many other districts. Several farmers have abandoned their farms for the season to live off their savings, while those holding large fields have taken loans to dig deep wells and tap groundwater.
Reeling off the numbers, the farmer said the cost of cultivating corn on two acres alone would run up to Rs 15,000. Expenditure on labour and harvesting equipment, in some cases adds to the cost. Then, there is the cost of transportation. The sum announced by the state government is paltry and not enough to cover even a fourth of these costs, he said.“If the state government is not doing what we need, it is natural we seek help from a higher power.“
For paddy , the state government promised Rs 5,465 an acre, which many farmers in the Cauvery delta have reported to have received in their accounts. In ThirunellikavalPudhur village in Thiruvarur district, drought relief is yet to arrive.Parched to such an extent that even drinking water is scarce in the village, people walk over 5 km to fetch water. Herding his goats, 29-year-old R Manigandan exploded in anger when asked if the relief announced by the government was enough.
“First, the foundation is set. The farms are irrigated thrice and then ploughed with rotators (tractors).We spread the seeds and apply fertilizers thrice. It takes at least three months to harvest paddy . For all this, I would require Rs 30,000 an acre.The relief announced is pittance,“ he said. He is as angry as he is dreading another failed monsoon.Manigandan’s elder brother, a mechanical engineer, is welding auto parts in one of Chennai’s repair shops, the only vocation supporting the family of four.
While many farmers are with P Ayyakannu, a lawyer and an agriculturalist who led the protests, some felt let down by the extreme steps taken, such as running naked in the capital. “We had to do something to grab their attention and the nation’s attention. All our acts had a symbolic relevance. Did we achieve anything? Yes, the nation is talking about the farm crisis in TN. We have not called off the protests. We have just suspended it till May 25 and given the state government time to come back with a better relief package and waive our loans,“ Ayyakannu, now back in Tiruchi, told ET.