Morvarid Fernandez writes: Our crops failed, cattle graze the dry paddy straw, and fields remain fallow because there is not enough water. Bore wells are deeper, the lines longer, and the black blister bug – usually a bane – simply did not appear last year. The monsoon of 2015, you ask. But there just wasn’t one.
(Note: This is the fourth installment of Weathering The Change, a short series presenting a ground-level perspective on the ongoing agricultural crisis, particularly as it relates to changing weather patterns. Read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of the series)
It has been 35 years since we moved to Nersa, a village in the Western Ghats in north Karnataka’s Belgaum district; 35 years conscientiously spent observing the weather (among other things!). In each of those years, the 7th of June, has always been significant to us, because that was the day the monsoons arrived. In the early years, the weather seldom let us down, and a predictable pre-dawn drizzle was encouragement enough to steal a few more minutes in a warm comfortable bed. Sadly, recent years have, more often than not, thrown up dry sunny June days and the ‘7th’ has since lost its significance.
In an urban setting, the weather and especially so the monsoons, is like a moving backdrop but somewhat disconnected, often only perceived through a partially open window or on the wet balcony of a city high-rise. The monsoon affects life in other ways, of course, delays in departure, a pair of leaky wellingtons or an obstinate umbrella, muddy floors and as seen in recent years some very serious flooding. Usually, though, its appearance or disappearance is understated and city life can still go on.
That’s not how things are in Nersa, with all of us tilling the soil and living off the land. Surrounded by the verdant jungles of the Western Ghats, with an average yearly rainfall of 120 inches, we are deeply associated with and wrapped up in the weather. Weather in all its forms, but especially the monsoons. Consequently, when the 7th of June dawns bright and sunny, we have good reason to worry.
The climate has changed and so have our lives. The summer of 2015 was a mild one. Reason to celebrate, you might think; but mild summers have often resulted in failed monsoons. The last week of May usually reveals the telltale signs of the approaching rains; wild flowers make an appearance, fireflies dance and everything around you is bursting with life. A few early showers showed promise, and in the farming community the euphoria and feeling of wellbeing that one always witnesses at the onset of the southwest monsoons, was in evidence.
Fields were ploughed, rice was planted, saplings procured, holes dug, seed and fertilizer purchased, but in the end there was simply no rain. The monsoon of 2015, you ask. But there just wasn’t one. Our crops failed, cattle graze the dry paddy straw, fields remain fallow because there is not enough water to go around. Bore wells are deeper, the lines longer, and the black blister bug – a bane in a good year with humungous armies sweeping through fields of green causing us so much heartache – simply did not appear last year.
The changes in our climate affect us all, but especially the poor and marginal farmer, for whom the South West monsoon is the source of his livelihood and which feeds his family for at least a year. Vittal, one of many such farmers in the village, had to procure more paddy seed, because the first lot died away due to the lack of rain. Was it worth his while? At harvest time in November, just half his paddy ‘filled’, the rest was chaff, all due to the lack of rain.
No rain, no power and no irrigation results in no crops. Given that the Karnataka Power Corporation supplies us with just six hours of power, often in the dead of night, we in Nersa would humbly like to submit to ‘the powers that be’, that the farmers of Karnataka aren’t nocturnal. Irrigating a sugar cane field in torch light is not only preposterously impractical but also dangerous, and since so many of our policy makers come from rural backgrounds, my question is, what are you thinking?
Weather forecasts are common now, all you need is an app on your phone. Whom do these forecasts help, we wonder. The farmer, as they should, or the opportunist at the stock exchange? Merely reporting percentages of deficiency and excess is a meaningless exercise; in agriculture, not only do the quantity of rainfall matter, but also the time of arrival and the pattern of distribution over a period. A light summery drizzle at planting time, then a steady downpour for growth, warm sunny days whilst weeding, more rain until harvest and then perfect sundrenched weather.
Weather patterns have changed, and have become unpredictable. Cropping patterns have also changed; and unlike before, we can now grow papayas and potatoes during the monsoons because there’s less rain. The growing of long duration paddy crops are not recommended as the monsoon season is now far too short, and unlike before, when all that could survive the watery onslaught was a field of Ragi, today we have lentils and chillies.
To all those experts, politicians and policy makers who went to Paris for the climate talks, here is the message that we would like to send you from Nersa; you are too late, the ‘change’ is already here.
Which nation can do without its farmers? Our plight should also be yours.