Crop losses push Satrem farmers to the brink

March 20, 2022 | 05:42 IST

Crop losses push Satrem farmers to the brink

Farmers in Satrem village in Sattari taluka in North Goa district have suffered heavy losses due to crop failure caused by water scarcity, weather vagaries and field intrusions by wild animals, reports SHASHWAT GUPTA RAY

Nestled amidst the scenic Western Ghats and Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary, Satrem is the first village in North Goa to border Karnataka. The main occupation of the villagers here is farming. However, farmers here are currently in dire straits.

Farmers suffer severe losses of up to hundreds of thousands of rupees due to crop failure caused by water shortage, weather fluctuations and destruction of fields by wild boars, monkeys and peacocks and even mudslides triggered by excessive rainfall. Being located inside the Wildlife Sanctuary, there is not much that these villagers can do as there are many restrictions.

“The village of Satrem is on the border of Karnataka in North Goa. This village draws its water from the streams that cross the village. They are fed by rain and only have water during the monsoon. As summer approaches, the rivers completely dry up. We have irrigation systems, but the flow is not strong enough to use it to water the fields. Without enough water, crops die. Farmers suffer heavy losses,” said a local Pancha member.

The Pancha member, who did not wish to be named, said even rainwater was not stored due to local topography.

“The streams come from the hills and flow during the monsoon. So technically, even though there is plenty of water during the rainy season, due to the lack of proper storage facilities, its availability is only limited to a few months. Gradually, the water levels drop and this negatively affects agriculture here. We need a check dam here for the water to be stored long term,” the Pancha member said.

Areca nuts, bananas, coconuts, cashews along with vegetables like bitter gourd, cucumber, chili peppers, long beans, tomatoes are commonly grown here. But due to water scarcity and other start-up issues such as weather fluctuation like sudden changes in temperature, unseasonal rains as well as intrusion into the fields of wild boars, monkeys and peacocks result in the crop destruction. Due to these factors, farmers suffer heavy losses, running into thousands of rupees.

“I grow bananas, areca nuts and coconuts here. Due to the scarcity of water in summer, agriculture is badly affected. In May, there is no water at all. As a result, our production drops. If that wasn’t enough, there’s a monkey menace here that adds to our woes. Banana and areca nut plantations are the most affected,” said Dhanu Gaonkar, a seasoned farmer in this region.

While monkeys cause maximum damage, peacocks and boars also give him trouble.

“Peacocks and monkeys are a big threat. We can’t do anything to prevent the animals from destroying our fields because we live in a wildlife sanctuary. I have suffered losses of over Rs 1 lakh this year alone,” Gaonkar said.

Another farmer, Vishnu Dulo Gaonkar, who only grows vegetables here, said the water shortage leads to poor harvests.

“I mainly grow bitter gourd (commonly called Karela), tomatoes, chilli and beans in my fields. Due to water scarcity, I am not able to grow vegetables adequately. We face a lot of losses due to water problems. Due to weather fluctuations, young trees and standing crops are damaged. Suddenly the weather turns cold or hot. This year, it was exceptionally cold. A few days ago it was very hot, more than normal temperature,” he said.

Even if crops somehow manage to resist natural hazards, wild animals damage them.

“Nearly half of the bitter gourd and bean plantations have been damaged. This year already, I suffered losses amounting to more than Rs 2 lakh. I don’t know how I will be able to support my family if this trend continues,” said Vishnu Gaonkar.

Another young farmer from the same village, Shyam Gaonkar, said he had been farming for 10 years. He had never faced so many problems before. The weather only started to cause problems in the last couple of years. Although water scarcity in summer is an ongoing problem here, it has intensified in recent years in summer due to extreme heat.

“I have been a farmer for a decade. But never before had I encountered such problems regarding the weather. If water scarcity is not enough, there is also the problem of water flooding the fields during excessive and off-season rainfall. Last year, I grew and sold strawberries worth Rs 40,000. Encouraged by the success, I invested much more on strawberries this time. But the off-season rains destroyed everything and I suffered losses to the tune of Rs 1 lakh on strawberry alone,” Gaonkar said. (See box)

It’s not just the strawberries that were damaged. Even the cucumber was hit hard due to unstable weather conditions.

“Because of the excessive heat, the insects do not eat away at our plantations. I lost a lot of my cucumbers to a worm attack. Even the watermelon produced is not up to par. The tomato production is also not what I expected,” Goankar said.

Asked about the government’s expectations, Shyam Gaonkar said that while the government supports the purchase of seeds, fertilizers and even agricultural equipment, compensation for crop loss is sometimes not enough.

“We need more government support to find long-term solutions to these problems if farming is to become a viable option in the future,” he said.

Asked about crop losses, Director of Agriculture Nevil Alphonso said the government is quickly paying compensation for crop losses due to weather conditions.

“Government has a proper compensation scheme for farmers against any crop destruction due to natural conditions like floods, drought. Someone has to approach us. Our officer then goes to the scene to assess the damage and compensation is paid accordingly,” Alphonso said.

He added that although issues related to water availability are handled by the Water Resources Department (WRD), the Department of Agriculture is ready to raise the issue with WRD officials since it is related to agriculture.

“On our side, we are going to push things. If there is a required proposal from our side, we will definitely submit it to the WRD officials and follow up as well. But the actual work of making the estimates and getting the necessary approvals is the responsibility of the WRD,” the director of agriculture said.

If a farmer undertakes any type of activity to create his own water source, such as digging wells and installing pumps, the Department of Agriculture provides assistance of up to 75 percent, he said. he adds. WRD Chief Engineer Pramod Badami said Satrem village is inside a wildlife sanctuary, where a check dam is already being built.

“Whatever water could be stored, we did. But we need permission from the Wildlife Board to build a structure inside the sanctuary. However, we have dam construction projects in the region named Satrem 1 and Satrem 2 under the upstream Master Plan. But we couldn’t go forward because it’s inside the wildlife reserve. Additionally, the Mhadei River water dispute with Karnataka continues,” Badami said.

With regard to the construction of dams, the WRD has received instructions from the government to undertake studies for the evaluation of the project.

“As for the construction of check dams, that can be taken care of by the Department of Agriculture because they have funds under watershed development programs. But the problem is that they can’t even do it themselves because the forest is involved,” added the chief engineer of WRD.

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