Drought and scanty rainfall are forcing farmers in Lingasugur taluk to move to cities in search of a livelihood.
By Sharathkumar Nair
Bengaluru, April 20, 2019
The fragrance from the marigold flowers floats in the air surrounding Gurgunta village. Umesh, a 27-year-old man who was born and brought up in this village has come from Bangalore to witness the jatra that happens every year. The jatra begins from Yelamma Devi temple located in Gurgunta and culminates at a temple located in Kallilingasugur. The natives of both Gurgunta and Kallilingsugur are in high spirits as this is a moment where they get to meet their near and dear friends who have migrated to other cities and districts for job opportunities. Umesh is happy but at the same time tired as he had traveled fourteen hours in a bus to reach his village to be a part of the annual festivities. He works as a driver in one of the prestigious construction companies in Bangalore. He currently stays in Whitefield, Bangalore with his wife and his newly born son in a small house made of tin sheets.
Umesh owns five acres of land in Gurgunta which he has leased it to one of his friends currently. He had left his village as he struggled to make ends meet for his family with farming. Drought-like conditions and scanty rainfall are the ones to blame which are forcing people like Umesh to abandon their farms and migrate to cities in search of a livelihood.
According to a report published by Karnataka State National Disaster Management Centre in 2017, nearly 60 percent of Karnataka was drought hit between 2001 and 2015. There have been three years of severe and protracted droughts since 2015. Lack of water for farming is one of the major challenges faced by farmers in Lingasugur taluk.
The Northern Karnataka region has districts such as Raichur, Bijapur, Yadgir, Gulbarga, Bellary, Koppal, Bagalkot and Bidar. The arid climate and scanty rainfall in the region have added more woes to the already struggling farmers. Karnataka has the second largest arid zone in the country while Rajasthan holds the top position. According to KSNDMC, 80 percent of minor irrigation tanks in the northern and eastern districts dried by December 2018.
Drought is no stranger in these areas. Recently, the Karnataka government declared 176 talukas of the state as drought-hit after the southwest monsoon. One hundred and fifty-six talukas were declared drought-hit in Rabi season. The Central government has recently changed the parameters for drought assessment. The new manual for drought management limits the Centre’s scope to offer financial assistance to the states. The new parameter will categorize droughts as ‘normal’ and ‘severe’. If the drought is ‘severe’, then the state will be eligible for central assistance from the National Disaster Relief Fund (NDRF). Farmers in the Lingasugur have to tackle both drought and depleting groundwater levels.
Depleting groundwater levels are another major challenge for farmers in Lingasugur taluk. Scanty rainfall does not recharge the depleting groundwater levels. Excess usage of bore wells has put additional stress on the already depleting groundwater levels. According to the data provided by KSNDMC, the water levels in Raichur districts are already depleting at an alarming rate. Farming in such adverse conditions without lack of water and rainfall leads to crop failure. The expenses incurred by the farmer in the form of seeds, fertilizer, labor charges are not recovered due to the low agricultural produce from the farms. This leads farmers into a vicious circle where they are not able to repay the money that they have borrowed from the bank or private money lenders to do farming. To repay the loan and sustain their families, farmers in Lingasugur taluk are left with no option than to migrate to neighboring cities in search of employment. Majority of these under skilled farmer’s take up jobs as construction workers in cities like Bangalore, Hyderabad, few also end up as temporary workers in factories situated in Maharashtra and Goa.
“We are trying everything possible to stop farmers migrating from the villages,” said Amaresh Yadav, Rural Development officer at Lingasugur Taluk Office. Various schemes have been introduced by the Government of India to ensure farmers get a source of income in the villages itself. The Agriculture Department and the Horticulture Department runs various programmers that generate incomes for the farmers.
Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme is one of the schemes introduced by the Government of India to stop farmers from leaving their farmlands and migrating to cities for jobs. Under this scheme, Rs 250 per person wage is provided to farmers who are instructed to do tasks such as digging ponds in the field, canal cutting, and village road works. These jobs come in handy during drought as there are no jobs in the fields.
“Me and my wife both work under the MGNREGA scheme. It is really helpful when there is no work on the field but work is not available all the time. It becomes really difficult if we are not assigned jobs by the PDO officer,” said Mahalingappa, a farmer from Gurgunta.
The Horticulture Department provides various subsidies to farmers to procure seeds and equipment. The farmers are encouraged to plant crops like pomegranate, chili, papaya as these plants require very less water to sustain. The Horticulture team provides training to the farmers and inspects their farms on a daily basis to ensure maximum yield from the crops. The team makes sure that the farmers follow the technicalities when they are planting horticulture crops.
According to Yogeshwar, Senior Assistant Director of Horticulture,” We are conducting various training programs to make the farmers aware of these schemes so as to avoid them from leaving the village in search of job opportunities. The PDO at every panchayath is entrusted with the job of creating awareness among the farmers.”
Krushi Honda or Farm ponds are dug in farms to collect water. These ponds vary in size. Some of the ponds are 10X10X10 meters while some are 10X10X12 meters. The ponds are dug using JCB machines which are provided by the government. Once the pod is dug, they are covered with polyethylene lining which prevents the water accumulated in the ponds from seeping.
“The entire Raichur district is facing continuous dry spells. Even after providing complete assistance from our side, farmers are facing 100 percent crop loss”, said Yogeshwar, Assistant Director, Horticulture Department, Lingasugur.
The Horticulture Department in Lingasugur taluk has dug more than 4000 ponds till date. The Horticulture Department also provides subsidies to farmers to purchase diesel engines and sprinkler sets. Gundappa, a 27-year-old farmer who currently works as a JCB operator in Bangalore states that there is no water in the ponds that have been dug by the agricultural department. These ponds are empty and are of no use to farmers.
“There has been no rainfall. The farm ponds will be useful if it rains. They can be used to store rainwater’, said Mallikarjuna, Assistant Director, Agriculture Department.
Gundappa, who owns two acres of farmland in Bhupura had left his village two years back. He used to grow groundnut on his farm but due to lack of rainwater, he had to stop farming. Gundappa often visits his mother who stays alone in Bhupura. Gundappa blames the government for not taking enough initiatives to make water available to the farmers for irrigation. “If the water is made available, many people including me will come and resume farming,” he said.
Mahalingappa, a 31-year-old farmer said,” The PDO does not allocate any jobs to us under the MGNREGA scheme even though we have job cards. We hardly get Rs 250 for working for an entire day in the field whereas I earn Rs 600 per day at a construction site in Bangalore.”
MGNREGA scheme has been a savior for farmers but the income guaranteed by the scheme does not match with the income that these farmers earn at construction sites or working t factories in Bangalore or Hyderabad. Under MGNREGA scheme, the government guarantees 100 man days for each job card holder but there are delays in remuneration from the government side.
“Delay in payment from the government forced me to look for a job in Bangalore,” said Umesh.
Yogeshwar, Assistant Director, Horticulture Department admitted that there have been delays in payments to farmers who were assigned jobs under MGNREGA scheme.
According to Tanveer Ahmed, Research Associate at University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore, effective usage of water is the key to tackle the situation faced by farmers in Lingasugur taluk. The farmers should be educated and encouraged to cultivate drought-tolerant species. Integrated Farming System should be adopted in regions where there is low rainfall. Different types of crops such as perennials, annuals, and leafy vegetables should be cultivated.
Drip irrigation should be adopted by every farmer. Mulch is a covering, made of straw, compost, or plastic sheeting, spread on the ground around plants to prevent excessive evaporation or erosion, enrich the soil, inhibit weed growth, etc. Farmers should cover their farms with the mulch to avoid soil erosion and to retain moisture. Farm ponds should be constructed at a declination to collect maximum rainwater. Intercropping which involves growing two or more crops in proximity can help to increase the revenue from the farms. The farmers should look at alternative options such as poultry and dairy to generate revenue rather than depending on farming.
The annual rainfall of the taluk hasn’t changed much. The distribution of rainfall has varied from. One village gets excess rainfall while the other receive below normal rainfall. The government should make arrangements to transport the excess water to the villages who are in need of water within the taluk.
Farmers should make the best use of government initiatives such as ARYA(Attracting Rural Youth towards Agriculture), a project launched by Directorate of Floricultural Research, Indian Council of Agricultural Research. This project aims to empower the youth in rural areas to take up agricultural various Agriculture, allied and service sector enterprises for sustainable income and gainful employment in selected districts.
The Watershed Management and Poverty Alleviation project in Karnataka, India (known as the Sujala Project) was developed by the Government of Karnataka funded by the World Bank to mitigate drought issues in the state. The project was implemented in three phases namely Sujala -I, Sujala-II and Sujala-III.
Sujala-III project is formulated to address the complex issues at the micro level and more specifically to provide farm-specific crop choices, evolve location specific soil and water conservation measures, a package of practices, provide datasets and inputs needed for planning and implement and monitor all land-based developmental programmes in the state. The project is executed in a consortia mode with the main objective of generating site-specific land resource database on soil and other resources at the watershed level through LRI(Land Resources Information) using state-of-the-art RS(Remote Sensing) and GIS (Geographic Information System) techniques with adequate ground truth.
Lingasugur from Raichur district has been chosen for Sujala -III project. Farmers should be educated to choose crops wisely depending on water consumption. Crops such as millets consume less water whereas crops such as sugarcane consume more water. Farmers residing in the top end of the watershed project will have access to less water compared to farmers residing in the low end.
A wise and educated approach towards farming is the only way to bring joy and relief into the grief-stricken lives of the farmers in Lingasugur taluk.