"Leave alone farming, there was no water to drink- neither for the people nor the cattle over the last four years. We sold our cattle simply because we could not tend to them. Gold, land, tractor- we have sold or pledged it all," recalls Thammegowda, a farmer from Mulkatte village. Consecutive droughts have ravaged the village. Rain has been good this year but lives of farmers as well as the drought-ravaged land will take more than one good rain to recover.
For the first time in four years, people of Mulkatte- an agrarian village in Nagamangala taluk of Mandya district in Karnataka- are seeing their lake brim with water. Despite the bountiful rains that the state has seen, farmers are not very positive. The heavily rain-dependent region is praying for another spell of rain to make its ragi crop a success. Another crop failure means another year of doom for the village of about 750 people.
Sipping a cup of tea, seated on a casual bench outside the tea stall on a sunny Monday morning, villagers, mostly farmers spoke of how the drought had taken a toll.
"The greenery you see around you is just weed and grass. Two months ago, the land was brown and barren. Despite the rains, we have no crop this year because we need to prepare the land first. Those who have sown are hoping for another spell of rain but the situation is tricky. If it rains too much, the crop will be wasted," said M D Devegowda, a 63-year-old farmer from the village.
The thirsty villages within a lush green district
The village traditionally grows ragi- a drought-tolerant crop, vegetables, and coconut but the drought has changed things and villages believe that it will take another year of good monsoon to reverse the damage. Nagamangala taluk lies in the tail end of the otherwise lush green and well irrigated Mandya district-Karnataka's sugar bowl.
"We have no connectivity to Cauvery like other parts of Mandya and are heavily dependent on Hemavathy for water. But for the last few years, no water was released from the reservoir. The Hemavathi irrigation canal ends in our taluk but the works on the same are incomplete. Despite the acute water shortage and rainfall deficit, our taluk never finds a place in the state government survey for rain deficit regions," said M Paramesha, a local who cleared the Karnataka Administrative Services examination and is currently posted in Tumkur.
The wait for the loan waiver is long and tiring
1,127 farmers from 28 villages belonging to one of the cooperative societies are eligible for a loan waiver as announced by the Karnataka government. Not a single rupee of the sanctioned Rs 3.80 crore has been disbursed so far. Farmers have been told that the money would be disbursed by December and this is the tale of one cooperative society alone.
"Farm waiver is never the permanent solution to farm crisis. Governments fail to come up with a long-term plan to make farmers self-sufficient. With MSP, there is some respite but is the government willing to offer a price that is suitable if not profitable for the farmer?" asked Devinder Sharma, an agricultural researcher, and activist.
"I invest Rs 8,000-9,000 to cultivate Ragi in the one-acre land. A good harvest would yield me 20-24 kgs grains but I am forced to sell one quintal of Ragi at nothing more than Rs 1800-1900 to middlemen," said Vishakante Gowda, President of the Kasaba Vyavasaya Seva Sahakara Sangha, a cooperative society.
As on Tuesday, the price of one quintal of Ragi from Nagamangala was pegged at Rs 2,300 on the Krishi Marata Vahini website- an online agricultural marketing information system meant to help farmers. "The government barely purchases the produce once a year. Our Rights, Tenancy, and Crops (RTC) form are used by middlemen to sell our produce at higher rates (at govt fixed rates)," said Halugowdappa, a 61-year-old farmer who sold his land for his daughter's marriage. Out of the five-acre he owns, he had decided to cultivate a mere 1.5 acre, with financial crunch being the reason.
Farmers don't want to grow to sell
"We now cultivate only for our consumption. What we grow is enough for our household and to feed the cattle. There are barely 3 pairs of oxen in the entire village because none can afford to take care of them anymore. You (city dwellers) give us a good price for our produce and we will grow more grains and send it to you," said Vishakante Gowda. His statement reflective of the urban-rural disconnect in India, a term researchers have time and again referred to as the crux of farm crisis
Farmers from this rain-dependent village have but one request to the government- release water through the canals once a year so the lakes are filled up. "All that the government has to do is release water once a year and we will never face drought," M Paramesh said.