Bleak scenario:A file picture of the dried up Bhavanipuzha in the Attapaddy region of Palakkad district.
Scarce rain, following the failure of two monsoons, has led to parched conditions in many districts of Kerala, with crop damage reported from large tracts of farmland.
The early impact of the drought has left farmers bracing themselves for the worst crop output in many years.
The State government had declared the entire State drought-hit on October 31.
A preliminary report prepared by the Department of Agriculture has estimated that a total of 17,128.76 hectares of farmland have been affected by drought during the period from October 31 to December 20.
As many as 49,276 farmers are estimated to have suffered crop damage to the tune of Rs. 90.25 crore.
The government anticipates a significant drop in agricultural output.
“The farm sector is expected to take the biggest hit. Many of the ambitious schemes launched to enhance crop production are unlikely to meet the target. Going by the current situation, the outlook is dismal,” said Minister for Agriculture V.S. Sunil Kumar.
Palakkad worst hit
The worst damage has been reported from Palakkad where farmers lost crops in 7,027 hectares, followed by Thiruvananthapuram (4,714 hectares).
Paddy crops in 13,170 hectares have withered away, while vegetable farmers have lost crops in 3,167 hectares. More than 5,65,000 banana plants and 76,000 coconut palms have been affected, according to the report.
Most of the irrigation dams in Kerala are already down to 50 per cent of their storage capacity.
Saline intrusion is posing a problem in many areas. Many agriculture experts have pointed out that the poor maintenance of irrigation canals in many places has aggravated the situation.
The government meanwhile has initiated a series of measures aimed at drought mitigation.
“A six-month moratorium has been declared on farm loans and steps have been taken to issue compensation for crop loss. A series of meetings has been convened at the constituency and district level to assess the drought situation and its impact on drinking water availability and the agriculture sector,” Mr. Sunil Kumar said.
The mitigation measures will focus on the protection of water sources, soil conservation, a shift to drought-resistant varieties of paddy, and promotion of non-irrigated crops like millets, pulses and lentils.