Facing losses, but reluctant to change

Agriculture Taluk

Most farmers in Gangavathi are under disguised unemployment and are stuck with the dearth of inexperience

By Apoorva GS

Gangavathi, a place with a very rich history of temples. The fairly compact town is filled with a maze of narrow winding streets and bordered by barren mountains. As you enter the land of enormous and diverse cultures you see bright green, interminable paddy fields. Paddy emerging from brown muddy fields shine fine as it had always been part of the scenery. Once you set foot in these paddy fields, you can feel the swampy soil and as you take a deep breath, the aroma of rice fields greets you.

Shanmukhappa is a 56-year-old farmer in Gangavathi. He owns two acres of agricultural land where he is growing paddy from the past nine years. Shanmukappa’s three sons and his wife also work in the same paddy field which is their only source of income. Paddy doesn’t need skilled and more laborers because cultivation is easy. Every year Shanmukhappa harvests paddy only once in a year because of the shortage of water. He says, “I get somewhere around Rs. 25,000 to Rs. 30,000  profits annually and five of us will have to manage with it for the rest of the year”. This is the case with most of the farmers in Gangavathi.

Gangavthi is also known as the “Rice Bowl” of Karnataka because it is a commercial hub and major focal point for the rice milling industry. Also, the highest number of paddy cultivation is done in this place in Karnataka.  A large number of farmers in Gangavathi have adopted paddy cultivation from the past thirty years. Paddy consumes a large amount of water. But the state government has also declared Koppal district as a drought-hit area since 2016. Farmers in Gangavathi taluk get water from the Tungabhadra dam. A decade ago, water was available during all the twelve months in a year for cultivation and hence farmers were able to harvest paddy twice a year. But from the past ten years, there is a shortage of water in the Tungabhadra dam and farmers are capable of harvesting paddy only once in a year.

Ground water information, Koppal District

Ham: Hectar meter
Source: Central Ground Waterboard

Due to this continued practice of paddy farming in Gangavathi, farmers are lacking in skills. They do not have any idea about how to farm any other crops except paddy.

The total number of agricultural land in Gangavathi taluk is 80,950 hectares out of which paddy is grown in 36,155 hectares of land. This means more than 55 percent of farmers in Gangavathi taluk go without work once the harvesting is done. As a  result, most farmer families in Gangavathi are in disguised unemployment because they are only involved in paddy farming.

Chandramohan H.K, Retired IAS and Ex-director of Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) of Karnataka state say, “Farmers lack the knowledge to make the best availability of resources. They lack experimenting skills. There are no skilled laborers to grow other crops except paddy. Due to this, there is no ready market where other crops can be easily sold just like paddy.”

Jambanna, Assistant director of the agriculture department, Koppal said, “Every year on behalf of the government we insist farmers to either switch to some other crops from paddy and not to transplant paddy for the second time. But none of the farmers are ready to take any suggestions given by the government. So we become helpless when they face losses due to lack of water.”

Suri Babu, Farmer and President of Gangavathi taluk rice millers said, “Once the paddy is harvested, farmers don’t have to go in search of buyers as there are multiple rice mills in Gangavathi. So obviously it’s very easy for them to sell their yield.”

Venkatesh. N, President of  ‘SaveTunga-Bhadra committee’ said,  “According to Bachawat Aayog verdict farmers have to grow 25 percent cane and paddy, six percent horticulture crops, 69 percent low irrigation crops. But keeping the profit as a motive, farmers tend to grow more paddy. This is also one of the reasons why water has become insufficient in this area.”

Tipperudraswamy, Lawyer from Gangavathi said, “Every year Tungabhadra (TB) administration board issues a notice and instructs farmers not to grow paddy as their second crop because of the scarcity of the water. But farmers do not follow the instructions. These problems are interlinked. As the unauthorized agricultural land has been increased in this area, the allotted amount of water is not reaching the farmer. As a result, every year farmers fight with TB boards to release extra water.”

Paddy fields filled with water during summers in Gangavathi

Disguised Unemployment: Though many farmers are involved in paddy farming, the labor force is going waste. Many families are not able to afford basic living standards because more than four in a family are doing the same job just like Shanmukappa’s family. 

The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) reported a few factors affecting employment in Indian agriculture which involved quitting agriculture and switching to a regular or permanent job since agricultural jobs are seasonal.  This factor was ranked second by FICCI because agricultural jobs being seasonal, laborers remain unemployed during the lean season. This makes them seek a regular/permanent job that could provide them income throughout the year. Also working as an agricultural laborer is considered a low-esteem job in rural areas.  

Suri Babu also said, “I recently started potato plantation on my farm. As there were no skilled laborers in Gangavathi I had to get laborers from the Kolar district.”

Neelamma, a farmer said, “I have been growing paddy for the past fifteen years. Initially, I used to save some amount of money by harvesting twice a year. But from the past eight to nine years it has become very difficult for me to afford basic living standards because I can harvest only once in a year. So my daughter had to discontinue her studies after her schooling”.  Neelamma also has a son who used to work in the same paddy field. Once they started facing losses, her son Sundar quit agriculture since he has no idea about how to grow other crops and is working as a watchman in a rice mill.

Durgalakshmi, a farmer says, “My husband had five acres of agricultural land where we grew paddy for twenty-five years.  Initially, we used to earn good amounts of profits. But slowly our land lost its fertility and we did not get expected yields. Due to this agricultural loss, my husband committed suicide.” Currently, Durgalaksmi receives at least Rs 10,000 every year as financial assistance from the government with Rs 5 lakh which she received immediately after she lost her husband under the widow pension plan and her kids are given free education. 

Mixed cropping

Mixed cropping is growing two or more crops on the same piece of land in one crop season which will avoid crop loss in uncertain monsoon. Also, the fertility of the soil is improved simultaneously in mixed cropping and the chances of pest infections are reduced.

“When there is a scope for mixed cropping, I cannot stick to one crop. I  have been practicing mixed cropping from the past eight to nine years and I grow eight types of horticulture crops in my land. I have also adopted organic farming,” said Nagaraja Swamy, a farmer from Venkatagiri in Koppal district.

Nagaraja Swamy is popular for his mixed cropping method in Gangavathi. He earns at least Rs 12 lakh in a year. He also said, “Government has to focus more on educating the farmers to switch from monocropping to mixed cropping which can avoid all the uncertainties and losses they go through,  and of course a fixed rate and market has to be provided for these crops which will encourage farmers to experiment in their land.”

According to the reports produced by Science Direct, a scientific research organization, mixed cropping is a strategy to maximize farmer’s profits and minimize risk, alleviate seasonal labor peaks and stabilize incomes.

Virupakshayya N.G,  Agriculture technical manager, Karnataka state government said, “Every year the government assists farmers by providing quantitative information about the usage of pesticides and fertilizers in their farms. But in order to increase the yield, farmers do not follow these guidelines provided by the government. Over usage of these pesticides is causing a decrease in the fertility of the soil which is gradually affecting the yield.”

“Though we are trying to educate farmers on behalf of the government, they are not testing the seeds before sowing them and are continuously pouring the water for their crops which is also one of the major reasons for the crop loss,” he added.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) conducted research in Karnataka and stated that knowledge level about pesticides is adequate among farmers but this does not reflect in their practice. There is a need for continuous pesticide safety education along with training to the farmers regarding the use of personal protective devices, personal hygiene and sanitation practices during and after the application of pesticides. In addition, the promotion of alternative pest control strategies such as the application of biopesticides can be introduced. This would reduce the dependency of chemical pesticides as well as their adverse impact on human health and the environment.

Dr. Vishwanath. J, Soil Scientist, Agriculture Research Institute from Gangavathi said, “Farmers fail to perform the correct procedure of soil, water, and crop management. There are multiple reasons contributing to this. Farmers do not get the water from the canal on time which is forbidding the farmers from making a decision about which crop to grow. They tend to use more pesticides to obtain more yields. This is leading to human-induced sterilization which means soil loses its fertility. So guidelines have to be provided on a very regular basis to those farmers who switch to other crops which will make them understand the agriculture in depth.” 

Dushyanth Kumar, Professor, University of  Agriculture and Horticulture Sciences said, “Government should deal with this problem at a micro-level. Firstly soil should be tested in the nearest agricultural institutions and educate farmers about what crops are suitable for their soil. Farmers should be taught about timely requirements. Government with the help of Agriculture Institutions should popularise season-wise crops amongst the farmers and link it with market demands so that they can understand the concept of demand and supply”. He also said how farmers can switch to pulses which can be harvested within three months when there is a scarcity of water. 

Around 65 percent of the Indian economy is dependent on agriculture. Whatever problem a farmer is facing today is because of the lack of education he has got about how the market works. If he studies the rainfall, demand, and supply of the market, he can grow the crops according to that and can rule the market.


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