Unusual Monsoon Spells Disaster For Crops In Kerala

Kochi/Thiruvananthapuram, October 27: | Updated: Oct 28 2002, 05:30am hrs
The recent rains, which lashed Kerala after a dry spell, following scanty monsoon, have spelt disaster for several crops except rubber and cardamom. The loss, which the unprecedented rain caused to crops, is yet to be estimated, though farmers and agriculture department officials confirm that the rain spread havoc, especially among the banana and paddy fields in the state.

The unusual monsoon, which meteorological department officials said, was a continuation of the below normal South-West monsoon and a precursor to the North-East monsoon which is due sometime next week.

The Directorate of Arecanut and Spices Development in Kozhikode has just begun a survey of the havoc caused and it would take another week before the work is completed, director Tamilselvan told FE.

According to Spices Board sources, the sudden monsoon outburst would help farmers have one more pick as there would be yet another flowering. The scanty monsoon earlier did not affect the crop much as the frequent drizzle proved beneficial then though it would have affected irrigation during the early part of next year.

The below normal monsoon had hit the pepper plantations hard as rain induces spikes usually around July/August. But this time the spikes induced were much less and the continuous downpour over the last three weeks would see the sprouts wither away. According to rough estimates, there would be around 40 to 50 per cent fall in pepper production this year. The recent rain would only add to bringing this further down, board official said.

Former Coconut Development Board chairman Joseph Alappat said the unprecedented rain would affect most of the crops. Pepper and banana plantations were the worst hit, he said, adding it was too early to estimate the loss and given the trend, there was little the government would do to compensate for the loss. However, the domestic rubber demand has not turned its face from Kerala rubber bourses yet. This time, it is the monsoon pattern that sustained the uninterrupted farm-to-market supplyline of rubber stocks in a price-buoyant period.

Despite the initial panic stirred by the monsoon truancy, tapping without using the rain guards was possible in this period. And just as the heat climbed beyond the rubber crop optimum, the downpour had started. It was as if the rains were all for rubber, Kerala Agriculturalists Association president KK Joseph (Palai) told FE.

During the peak demand time, the erratic farm-market movements often letdown the farmers from making fair price-realisations. Even when the margin between the Rs 45.02 per kilo international price and Rs 38.78 per kilo is an import-inviting situation, the threat has been less because of the unwavering supply line this time.

There has been forecast of a heavy North-East monsoon, but the farmers are not too apprehensive. The November rains, however fierce, tends to be in the evenings, leaving the mornings sunny, dry and ready for rubber tappers, said Dr Mathew Mathew, who heads Kanjirapuzha Planters Association.

Rubber Board has been making a survey on the increase in production during this season which is to be completed only next month. About 15 per cent of the small-holding farmers had left their plantations untapped during last season due to poor price realisations, Mr Krishankutty, market expert, Rubber Board pointed out. These farms might have given better yield this year supported by the rain pattern. This could also have have played a role in the increased production, he said.