Paddy farmers in Kuttanad, Kerala have long been accustomed to adapting to different weather patterns, but of late, climate change is making it increasingly difficult for them to achieve high yields. This year’s puncha growing season has turned out to be disappointing for most farmers, with a significant drop in rice production.
The average yield has fallen from around three tons per acre during a typical puncha season to just two tons. Low crop yields have been observed mainly in fields growing Uma, the most popular rice variety in the area, grown in 80-90% of the fields.
P.J. Prasad, an experienced rice farmer from Edathua in Kuttanad said that the increasing occurrence of extreme weather events is causing difficulties in cultivation.
He said that in the previous puncha season, farmers suffered losses due to heavy rains, while this season, low rainfall has affected the harvest.
Prasad used to harvest between 2.5 and 3 tons of rice per acre, but this season, the average yield has dropped to 2.2 tons per acre.
Climate Change affecting rice yield
The reduced yield in rice cultivation in the Kuttanad region of Kerala is believed to be a consequence of climate change, according to experts at the Mankombu Rice Research Station, a research center of the Kerala Agricultural University.
Due to dry periods when rainfall was needed, prolonged sunlight and high temperatures, the rice plants lost moisture, resulting in advanced grain maturity but reduced weight. The lack of rainfall during the flowering period of the plants led some farmers to use saline water, which negatively affected the health of the plants.
Average yield has dropped to two tons per acre. To address this problem, experts recommend strictly adhering to crop calendars and adopting adaptation measures, such as promoting drought-tolerant and weather-resilient rice varieties.
The Kerala State Civilian Supplies Corporation has revised its rice procurement target for Alappuzha due to poor yield. Although an initial target of 1,37,800 tons was set, it has been lowered to 1.15-1.2 lakh tons.
Kuttanad’s farmers suffer losses
According to estimates by the state Department of Agriculture in the 2022 puncha season, Kuttanad farmers have suffered losses of Rs. 9,608 crores of crops on 6,582 hectares.
Changes in rainfall patterns have made it difficult for farmers to rely on traditional agricultural calendars, and due to rains in October 2021, the planting process was delayed, affecting the harvest. In Kuttanad, considered Kerala’s ‘rice bowl’, farmers need a yield of about 20 quintals to make rice cultivation profitable, but unpredictable rains mean they can only get a quarter of this.
Other economic activities in the region, such as backwater tourism, fishing, and livestock management, have also been affected by the recurring floods. Changing geoclimatic conditions over the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, combined with few coping strategies, have led to changes in rainfall and flooding in Kuttanad.
Warmer seas and air have led to stronger and more frequent storms, bringing more untimely rain over Kuttanad. With irregular rainfall, the local population is under constant threat of flooding in this region which is already vulnerable to seasonal flooding during the southwest monsoon season.
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