Canal closures force farmers in Rajasthan to uproot their loose kinnow orchards

Soaring temperatures and untimely closure of canals for maintenance have left kinnow Farmers in Sri Ganganagar district of Rajasthan with no choice but to sow moong, cluster bean and cotton harvests.

“What could we do? Harvests have been negligible over the past two years. Flowers and fruits fell for the third year in a row. Due to the lack of water, I could not sow anything this year. From now on, I intend to focus on cotton. and wheat. Since this year, the cotton and wheat season has already passed, I have sown the least water-intensive crops (moon beans and grapes),” Chak 25ML’s Ranveer Jhatwal told 101Reporters.

Jhatwal had cultivated kinnow on 24 bighas of land for 15 years. But last year he uprooted his 12 bigha orchards, removing the rest this year.

But Jhatwal is not the only farmer to take such an extreme step. Several large and small farmers in Rajasthan have done so. Heat and lack of irrigation have destroyed 80-92% of orchards this year, forcing almost all farmers to uproot their orchards, compared to a few who did so last year.

Statistics provided by the Department of Horticulture reveal that out of 11,540 ha under kinnow, 115 ha of orchards had been uprooted up to May 17, and by June 3 the figure stood at 289 ha.

Farmers continue to uproot their kinnow orchards in every tehsil in the district.

kinnow disillusionment

Orchards made their first appearance in Sriganganagar within two to three years of the opening of the Gang Canal in 1927. However, it is in the last two decades that horticulturists have seen orchards literally blossom in the district. Even as lime, guava, pomegranate, dates, amla, and lemons flourished, kinnow was their most profitable fruit. While the incentives given by the National Horticultural Mission were a big draw, pest infestations on their cotton crop, leading to huge losses, eventually pushed the farmers to switch to kinnow cultivation. Sriganganagar district alone produces 80,000 metric tons of kinnow annually, much of which has been exported to China, Russia, Bangladesh, Nepal, Australia and Bhutan.

Deputy Director of Agriculture (Retired) VS Nain, who served earlier in Sriganganagar, said: “Wheat, mustard and cotton were the crops traditionally grown in this district. But when pesticide spending soared following caterpillar attacks about two decades ago, harassed farmers were forced to spray nearly 30 to 40 rounds of pesticides to save a single cotton crop. That’s when they switched to kinnow. And that didn’t disappoint them either; they made significant profits on each crop. Unfortunately, the past three years has caused them repeated losses and forced them to uproot their orchards.”

Recounting his woes, farmer Mahendra Kumar of Chak 25ML recalled how his orchard of 50 bigha once brought him Rs 35 lakh to Rs 40 lakh a year but he was unable to break even for the past three years .

“In 2020 there was very little produce, and in 2021 I earned a meager Rs 5 lakh after spending Rs 7 lakh on inputs. flowers and fruits. Two years ago I uprooted 10 bighas; last year I uprooted another 12 bighas; this year I uprooted another 5 orchard bighas,” Kumar said, adding that he now intends to grow cotton as the harvest of a single bigha can fetch him up to Rs 1 lakh.

Usually, it takes four years for a kinnow crop after planting an orchard and waits seven years before you can harvest the best fruit. But currently, even farmers who planted saplings just two years ago are uprooting their orchards, anticipating future losses.

Farmer Bhupendra Singh of Chak 11ML had laid his orchard on 9 bighas of land at a total cost of Rs 6 lakh to Rs 7 lakh. He uprooted his whole orchard. With a heavy heart, Singh said, “What good is keeping this orchard, when I can’t profit from it? My neighbour, Farmer Jagseer Singh, also uprooted his two-year-old orchard.

Excessive heat and lack of irrigation water also led farmer Ashok Chaudhary of 24GB village to uproot his orchard.

“There has been no flowering for the past two years. The excessive heat has wilted my plants,” Chaudhary told 101Reporters.

“Last year, I uprooted 15 bighas from my orchard and planted mustard on this land, which yielded 5 to 6 quintals per bigha of produce. Recently, I uprooted another 10 bighas. Cotton has also proven to be more profitable than kinnow for me.

Explaining why grubbing up their orchards is their best option, farmer Jhatwal said, “You have to spend Rs 25,000 to 30,000 per bigha every year to harvest kinnow. It is a burden when production falls short in consecutive years.

Mercury spike, water scarcity, among others, are the biggest threats.

Deputy Director of Horticulture Department Priti Bala pointed out that the temperatures in March were unprecedented for the past two years.

“Temperatures between 25 degrees Celsius and 30 degrees in late March are ideal for flowering. But this year, temperatures have hit 40 degrees, she said. “High temperatures can cause flowers and fruits to drop. It was also the time when canals were closed for repairs, preventing farmers from accessing much-needed irrigation water. »

Analyzing the situation, VS Nain noted that the Department of Water Resources must keep in mind the needs of farmers as they close irrigation canals for necessary repairs. Currently, they are released in April-May, that is, when orchards need irrigation water.

Rising cotton prices in the mandis have also attracted farmers to cotton farming, Bala added. Although the department advised farmers to remain patient “as cotton prices can also be volatile”.

Furthermore, the failure of the kinnow crop was not limited to Sriganganagar, Rajendra Nain, agriculture (horticulture) officer of the horticulture department of Sriganganagar, told 101Reporters.

High temperatures have taken their toll on fruit trees in the northern states of Punjab and Haryana; forcing farmers in Abohar and Fazilka districts in Punjab and Sirsa in Haryana to uproot their orchards.

Seek compensation for the threat to their livelihoods

When orchards are uprooted, many related industries are also threatened. There are around 36 kinnow packing and grading establishments in the district, each set up with an investment of Rs 35 lakh to Rs 1 crore. These grade the kinnow, apply preservatives to the fruit and package it for export.

Babu Khan Rizvi, the owner of one such wax and grading factory, told 101Reporters: “The destruction of the orchards is a disaster for us. If the orchards are uprooted, what will happen to us? Each factory employs about 100 to 150 workers. factory owners and workers will have to pay the price.”

In light of these developments, the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) Youth wing submitted a memorandum to the district administration. Shivprakash, BKU District Secretary (Youth Wing) Saharan stressed, “The government should conduct an investigation and set an amount of Rs 1 lakh per hectare as compensation for disaster relief.”

Kinnow growers only get one harvest a year, but the inputs needed are equal to those required for two crops, he pointed out. Therefore, the administration must offer a corresponding compensation.

Stating that the losses were much higher in reality than those reported by the authorities, Saharian also said that these orchards should be notified under the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana to be eligible for insurance.

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