Scanty rainfall, low-water levels to affect kuruvai paddy yields this year, warn Tamil Nadu farmers

Deficit rain in neighbouring Karnataka also hit Mettur dam water levels

By Shivani Chaturvedi
Published: Tuesday 05 September 2023
Only 46 TMC water was stored in the Mettur dam in July this year. File photo:

Tamil Nadu farmers have warned of low paddy yields this year, claiming that kuruvai, or short-term paddy cultivation, on about 100,000 acres in delta districts has been hit due to a lack of water for irrigation. Many have been forced to migrate to cities and look for work. 

Kuruvai crops are short-duration ones cultivated in the June-September period in the river deltas. Tamil Nadu has several districts known as delta districts due to their location in river valleys. The primary delta districts in the state are Thanjavur, Tiruvarur and Nagapattinam.

About three-fourths of the paddy grown in the state is cultivated in the delta region, said P Senthil Kumar, president of All India Kisan Sabha, Thanjavur district. “As kuruvai paddy is hit this year, it is certainly going to affect crop production. Last year, we had more than a million tonne production,” he said.  

Water scarcity is a significant concern for Tamil Nadu delta farmers. It’s a complex issue that can have serious impacts on agriculture and livelihoods in the region.

Read more: Water reservoirs were 38% emptier in ‘dry’ August

Kuruvai crops are grown over an area of 360,000 acres and need a large amount of water. The cultivators are solely dependent on water from the Mettur dam on the Kaveri river in Salem. In case of water shortage, it can jeopardise the cultivation of kuruvai rice and lead to crop losses, impacting the livelihoods of farmers.

About 100 thousand million cubic feet (TMC) of water is required for successful kuruvai farming, according to delta farmers. The cultivators said they started worrying about the yields in July this year, as the water stored in the Mettur dam was only 46 TMC. 

The Karnataka government has not released the monthly share of water to the Mettur dam in Tamil Nadu, said Kumar, adding that farmers were concerned over the issue. The neighbouring state is supposed to provide 177.25 TMC of water in a ‘normal’ water year. 

“The state government is not taking any action to solve this problem,” said Kumar. “We are demanding Rs 35,000 per acre from the government, but we haven’t been given any relief against crop damage till now. There is no crop insurance also.”

The farmers are also concerned about the lack of sufficient rainfall in the catchment areas of Karnataka and the overall water situation in the region. Catchment areas play a crucial role in replenishing water reservoirs and rivers, including those that provide water to Tamil Nadu through inter-state river agreements. 

Read more: Jharkhand may be declared drought-hit again this year

When these catchment areas receive inadequate rainfall, it can further exacerbate water scarcity issues, affecting multiple states, emphasising the need for coordinated water resource management and conservation efforts.

Samba crop in Tamil Nadu is also at risk due to the ongoing water scarcity and unpredictable rainfall patterns. The seeds are sown between September and November. Samba rice is a vital crop in the state, and its success relies heavily on the availability of water for irrigation. 

When water sources like dams and reservoirs have insufficient levels, it can indeed threaten the cultivation of samba rice, potentially leading to reduced yields and economic hardships for farmers.

“In the prevailing situation, many of the farmers are pushed to go for 100 days of work under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act or travel to Chennai and Tirupur for work,” said Kumar.

There was no response from the state agriculture department despite several attempts. 

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