Rain on Wayanads parade

Written by RajeshRavi | Updated: Mar 7 2013, 06:48am hrs
Picturesque Wayanad is one of the districts in the state of Kerala that has seen the maximum decline in monsoon rains over the last two decades. Located in the northern part of the state, Wayanad is a major centre for cash crops such as pepper, ginger, tea, coffee and cocoa. Lower rains and rising day-time temperature are seriously affecting the yield of thermo-sensitive crops such as cardamom, tea, black pepper and cocoa.

Wayanad comprises only 5.5% of the total area of Kerala. However, it is by far one of the most bio-diverse regions in the state. Geographically, Wayanad is situated on the windward and the leeward sides of the Western Ghats. The district gets the advancing monsoons during the months of June-September on the windward side and the retreating monsoons of October-December on the leeward side. The district accounts for 12% of the states agriculture-dependent population and has 47.44% of its population directly involved in agriculture as opposed to the states average of 23%. More than 22 % of the districts income comes from agriculture compared to the states average of 14%.

A study of IMD data by Joseph EJ of Centre for Water Resources Development and Management (CWRDM) reveals that Wayanad has been consistently receiving lower rains during the last 10 years. Deviation or shortfall from the normal has been above 20% for most part of the decade. The important thing is that both the South-West and North- East monsoons are seen declining in the district, Joseph said. The mean rainfall of the district is 2,786 mm during the monsoon season. But data shows that in some years, such as 2003, the received was only 1,829 mm. Consistent summer showers have been the saving grace for the region, he added.

Farmer Anand MV remembers his father telling him that pepper would eventually disappear from Wayanad due to changing climatic conditions. Anands family preserves a rain chart started by his grandfather. The decline in rainfall is alarming and Wayanad has changed. We have dug wells and made efforts to conserve all natural water bodies in our land. But the moisture content of the soil in Wayanad is declining rapidly. In some years, this land will not be suitable for pepper, coffee or ginger, Anand said. He is also planning to experiment with rubber like his fellow farmers, who are switching over from spices and coffee.

The conversion of large tracts of paddy fields into banana gardens is widely believed to be a principal cause of the arid conditions the district is grappling with. Extensive growing of banana in paddy fields has deprived the district of large areas of marshy land that are needed to store water. With shrinking wetlands, ground water level in the district has also reduced considerably, making some areas prone to drought during the long summer months. Irrigated land in Wayanad covers only around 9,770 hectares, which is only 8.3 % of the gross cropped area in the district. This figure is below the state average and national average of 14.4% and 39.22%, respectively, making most crops in the district heavily dependent on rainfall.

A study by Mathew Abrham of Lund University, Sweden, reports that the two characteristics of changing cultivation patterns and low irrigation have made this region vulnerable to environmental disasters such as drought, which can take a heavy toll on agriculture, partially or totally damaging crops such as pepper and coffee in Wayanad.

PV Joseph, emeritus professor, Cochin University of Science and Technology and former director of Indian Meteorological Department, said, During the period 1901 to 1980, North Kerala did not show a decreasing trend in rainfall, but since 1980 it has shown such a trend, with some areas even showing a fall of 5% per decade. The decreasing trend of monsoon rains over the West coast of India is caused by the decreasing strength of monsoon winds striking the Western Ghats despite greater moisture content in the winds caused by global warming.

A study by Rajendran and Kitoh has confirmed the decreasing trend in rainfall in coastal areas from Kanyakumari to Goa. In addition, their model has predicted continuation of this decreasing trend for several decades into the future, he added.