Thursday, January 15, 2009

As you sow, so you reap? Deccan Herald

Deccan Herald - As you sow, so you reap?
Tomorrow is Sankranthi, the festival of harvest. And most parts of Karnataka will celebrate. It’s also that transitory period, ‘Sankramana’ when the sun enters the sign of Makara, or Capricorn. Though urban Karnataka is far removed from its agrarian roots, the traditional distribution of ellu and bella (in little ziplock covers!) in urban neighbourhoods continues as a symbol of our essentially agrarian past.

Look carefully at the ingredients distributed. All traditional crops available locally: sugarcane, banana, coconut, gram, groundnut, til. In that sense, Sankranthi is really a festival of the local farmer. And fittingly, it is the farmer who should be at the centre of any discourse on festivities like Sankranthi. It is a festival of the farmer, and for the farmer.

In the Mysore region, like the village of Siddalingapura, the harvest is generally a time of heightened expectations. There’s the ritual of Kitchchu hayisuvudu (Cattle with their horns painted and decorated with turmeric cross over a burning heap of haystack). Farmers along with their cattle assemble on Mysore-Bangalore road near Siddalingapura to perform the ritual, even as curious onlookers gather.

Nagendra, a farmer tells Spectrum that the young and old alike gear up for the ritual in villages like Siddalingapura and Hosahalli in Mandya district. Earlier, Kurubara Halli near PKTB Sanatorium on KRS road in Mysore also drew huge crowds, but not on a such a scale anymore.

But, if Sankranthi is about the harvest, what then is the harvest like this year? “Where are the crops for us to celebrate the festival of harvest?” a Mysore farmer asks. Thanks to the rapid urbanisation, the fields have all gone and farmers have taken to other professions.

The best of times; the worst of times

When we asked Bandeppa (48) of Panegaon in Gulbarga taluk about what Sankranthi holds for him, he says it is hardly something to look forward to. Having burnt his fingers badly, Bandeppa is cautious. The awfully merciless south-west monsoon dealt him a heavy blow. Though a proud owner of ten acres of dry land, he has incurred insurmountable losses this time. All he has got as part of the harvest are four bags of tur (red gram), the predominant cash crop of the district. With untimely rains and a severe pest attack, his investment has gone in vain. “Never in recent memory have I had such a hard time,” Bandeppa rues.

But, the good news is that there are farmers who have reaped a bountiful harvest, thanks to regualr water supply to their fields. They have also been able to contain the pest menace. Take Shivasharanappa, for instance.
This Kotnur farmer is ecstatic with the 20 kgs of tur that he has been able to harvest from his five acres of wetland. It is quite a handsome gain, for tur is fetching a good price in the market today.

So, his 20 bags would amount to 25 quintals and at the rate of Rs 30.50 per quintal, he has netted more than Rs 75,000. Not too bad, in these troubled times.

But not all farmers are as lucky as Shivasharanappa. Small holders with less than five acres of dry land are the worst hit and their borrowing from private money lenders has only added to their misery. With most of the farmers depending heavily on tur which is a long 180-day gestation crop, they cannot even think of an alternate crop.

What’s with the areca...

Elsewhere, in Shimoga district, the harvest has been a mixed bag for farmers. After braving the vagaries of nature such as the moody monsoon, pest and fungal infections, the farmers here are all set to celebrate Sankranthi.

The major crops in the district have traditionally been paddy, maize, areca and sugarcane. Though the harvest has been along expected lines, areca growers in the district are in dire straits. The produce has come down by 30 per cent due to fungal infection locally known as kole roga. Prices of crops like paddy, maize and sugarcane have remained normal this year while that of areca, the main commercial crop has registered a steep fall.

Areca, the main commercial crop of the region seems to have lost its sheen. Cheap imports and extension of cultivation in non-traditional areas have resulted in a price slump. Another reason that is being cited for the drop in prices is that the government is charging Rs 12.5 lakh per month as tax for each guthkha producing machine.

Recession is global too

For proof that the global economic recession has widespread implications, pay close attention to the areca market in Shimoga. Areca merchants who had invested heavily in the stock market are not in a position to purchase produce from farmers at a competitive price. The price of saraku variety of areca which was around Rs 18,000 last year has crashed to Rs 12,000 and rashi idi variety from Rs 14,000 to Rs 8,500. Areca growers are hoping that the market will recover even as they celebrate the harvest festival.

So, tomorrow, when you savour your ellu-bella, think of the farmer in Kotnur, Panegaon, orSiddalingapura. For, it is all about him, indeed.

(Inputs from Srinivas Sirnoorkar, Srikantaswamy B and Veerendra PM)

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