Kochi: The start of the rainy season in Kerala has been worse than expected this year, driving fears that the rice and plantation crops would be seriously affected.
The state received 23.4cm of rain during 1-18 June, lower than the 50-year average of 38cm for the period, said M.D. Ramachandran, India Meteorological Department’s director in Thiruvananthapuram.
Longing for rain: A farmer walks through a barren rice paddy field on his farm at Mundur in Kerala’s Palakkad district. (Photograph by Prashanth Vishwanathan/ Bloomberg)
The monsoon current that began near the Lakshadweep islands moved away from Kerala, resulting in low rainfall and humidity, even as the rains have been normal in rest of the country, he said.
Farmers in Kerala—where the economy leans heavily on agriculture—are hoping there will be many more showers in the next four months of the south-west monsoon.
“Already, tea estates across the state have been badly affected and the June crop is likely to be very low,” said David King, president of the Association of Planters of Kerala. “Also, replanting in tea and cardamom gardens have been delayed on expectations that the rains will pick up.”
Another concern is a possible increase in the spread of pests. “Heavy rains wash the pests away but if the situation prevails (heavy winds and poor rains), the estates will be infested with pests,” King said.
Coffee yield is also expected to be lower this year, as pre-monsoon showers at the time of flowering has hurt pollination, said K. Moidu, president of Wayanad Coffee Growers Association.
However, sufficient pre-monsoon showers and spurts of rain in the cardamom-growing districts of Idukki and Wayanad have proved beneficial to the crop, said B.A. Vadhiraj, an agronomist at the Indian Institute of Cardamom Research in Idukki.
The monsoon pattern will help the country have a bumper cardamom crop this year, Vadhiraj added. Cardamom yield in India had fallen to 9,500 tonnes in 2007-08 from 11,235 tonnes in the previous year. The distribution of the showers is more crucial to crops than its intensity, said V.A. Parthasarathy, director of the Indian Institute of Spices Research at Kozhikode.
Heavy pre-monsoon showers may have led to the spiking of pepper vines, which normally occurs during the monsoons, after which the berries grow to be mature for plucking by the end of the year, he said.
Lower rainfall may also have helped rubber plantations. The low intensity of this year’s rains has increased moisture in the top soil, which should help in the growth of rubber trees, said a farmer.