Global Warming and Ground-Nut Cultivation

Groundnut farming has the potential to generate income irrespective of weather conditions. The requirement is wisdom in adapting to changed circumstances, says Rama S. Arakalagudu in this article. Reverting to traditional methods of inter-cropping can bring in a wholesome ambiance where crops, birds, and insects live in a symbiotic relationship. This is a model for us to emulate, instead of quick fixes for ‘big bucks’ using chemical fertilizers, monocropping and aggressive marketing. This blinkered view has destroyed a whole generation. Dependent industries like oil extraction plants have all but collapsed in the Central Districts of Karnataka, throwing thousands out of gainful employment. The underlying theme of the writer is an appeal to go back to the rhythms of our forefathers or face the brunt of mass annihilation. Grim but True!

The whole world is enduring the extreme effects of global warming and climate change. Droughts, hurricanes, and cyclones are occurring in one place, and tsunamis, floods, and earthquakes are shattering people in other places. People have also been noticing both droughts and untimely heavy rains during the monsoon seasons.

Climate change has directly or indirectly affected every single person on the planet. But the first person to be affected is the humble farmer, primarily his or her activities related to agriculture. At present, agriculture is in distress. Sown seeds are not sprouting because there is no rain. When the crop does grow, it is destroyed by heavy rain. There is no agricultural produce, and agro industries are shut down. There is an increase in rural to urban migrants since there is no agriculture and agro industry to sustain them. Farmers are either selling or leasing out their farmlands to rich men and looking for minimal wage jobs in the city.

This is the scenario across the country in all fields related to agriculture. Therefore, farmers of Chitradurga district, Challakere taluk (sub-district) of Karnataka’s rain-fed, groundnut growing flatlands are also sharing this bleak situation. Climate change has affected all areas differently – phenomena that can be witnessed in Challakere Taluk are seed sowing for the oil extraction industry, low yield, decreased production, heavy investment with zero returns, changes in lifestyle, imbalances in nature, and migration to the urban mirages called cities.

Groundnut at the global level

Globally, groundnut is the sixth important commercial crop. For the farmers of Challakere, it is a ‘food-income-industrial-commercial’ crop. Groundnut contains 48-50% oil and 26-28% nitrogen. High in fiber, it has many nutrients necessary for the human body. Around the world, about 26.4 million hectares are under groundnut cultivation. Total production is 37.10 million tones. Its average yield is 14 quintal per hectare (World Food and Agriculture Union, 2003).

About 94% of the total production is in developing countries. But the yield is low. Yield varies from one country to another, from one state to another, and from one province to another.

Tropical crop

Groundnut is grown as both a rain-fed and irrigation crop. The crop is mostly grown under rain-fed conditions. The ideal season to grow it in India is in summer and during the monsoon. The best-suited temperature is an average of 250C to 300C. Temperatures higher than 350 C adversely affect the crop.

The Joint Director of the Babbur Agricultural Research Institute in Chandrappa suggests, “Cloudy weather prevails during the monsoon and could cause pest attacks on the crop. If the temperature is very low, sprouting is delayed. If the temperature is 180 C or more for three continuous days, it is good for sowing.” Though the geographical placement of an area determines its temperature, the time for sowing rain-fed crops is determined by the monsoon. Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh lead India’s groundnut production.

Climate change – decreased yield

Changes in rainfall patterns during the monsoons are contributing to a reduction in groundnut yield. Some areas are witnessing a decline in groundnut cultivation. During the decade of 1990-2000, Karnataka received less rainfall than average during the monsoon. During this time, groundnut yield came down and the area under groundnut cultivation decreased (source: agricultural records). In 1980, farmers grew groundnut on a total of 18.98 lakh acres of land. By 1990, it was spread to 29.85 lakh acres. But by 2000, it was d own to 26 lakh acres.

A cash crop in a drought-prone district

Chitradurga district has 7 sub-districts (taluks) and around half the area (about 3 sub-districts) have Malnad (hilly region) climate. The rest of the district has flatland features, receiving less rainfall. Only 9.55% of the district’s area is covered by forest. No water irrigation resources are available. Most of the district’s land area is dry. Rainfall-dependent agriculture has been prevalent in the last hundred years, but out of this time period,60-70 years were hit by drought.

Chitradurga, a drought-prone land, is situated at the centre of the state of Karnataka. Most of it is mountainous terrain. There is dry weather almost throughout the year. Rainfall ranges from 380 mm to 550 mm. The monsoon is pleasant in the district. The main rainfall is in the post-monsoon phase, and the quantity of rainfall varies from taluk to taluk.

Crops

The important food crops in the district are Ragi (finger millet), Paddy and Jowar. Cotton and groundnut are the main commercial crops. In the last 10-12 years, onion and green chillies have also been widely grown. 80.37% of total cultivated land is under groundnut cultivation. Three taluks – Challakere, Molakalmuru and Hiriyur–have sand-mixed red soil, which is ideal for groundnut cultivation.

In these three taluks, groundnut is grown as a rain-fed crop. Tube wells also are being used for irrigation. There are both very small farmers and rich farmers who grow groundnuts in these areas of the district.

Groundnuts in Challakere taluk

Many oilseeds are grown in Challakere taluk, including groundnut, sunflower and safflower. About half(50.06%) of the land is under groundnut cultivation. Agriculturists attribute the groundnut success to the soil quality. The soil is sandy, drains well, and holds moisture. It aerates easily, facilitating good growth of rain-fed crops.

Challakere taluk has about 90,000 hectares under groundnut cultivation. Agricultural officer Spoorthi says, “The average rainfall in the last decade has decreased. There were only two years when the rainfall was enough for groundnut farmers. The yield was excellent in 2008 since we had very good rains.” Rain is mainly needed during the sowing phase through the flowering phase to ensure quality yield. Quality yield means good quality seeds for the next crop. Spoorthi added, “Farmers who used irrigation, would have preserved good quality seeds for rain-fed crop cultivation. Thus, they could ensure good yield in either methods.”

Major breeds

Three decades ago, two main varieties of groundnut were grown – creeper and ‘Netti’. The creeper variety grew into a bush, which was used as fodder after harvesting the nuts. This variety was adversely affected by low amounts of rainfall and changes in the climate. Yield decreased gradually. Also, cattle numbers dwindled.

 

Rama_Veeresh bommasandra

Veeresh has been growing groundnuts for the past twenty years in his six acre farmland

Farmers felt that the groundnuts of this variety had less oil content. “It was cumbersome to clean, dry and process after harvest. Thus, more labor was used while harvesting this variety. The ‘Netti’ variety is much easier to process after harvest. The yield is satisfactory and the oil content is much better than in the creeper variety. So now most farmers use the ‘Netti’ groundnut,” says Veeresh, a farmer from Challakere taluk, Bommasandra village, who has been growing groundnuts for the past twenty years in his 6-acre farmland.

Farmers like ‘Netti’ nut

As with other varieties, the ‘Netti’ variety too is multi-purpose. After harvest, the shoot of the plant is used as fodder. The residue after the oil is extracted is used to make some agro products. The dry shell of the nuts can be used to make compost. The most important characteristic of ‘Netti’ is the oil content in the seeds. Another key factor is that this variety is hardy, with good yield even when there is less or more rainfall and variations in temperature. “These worked in favor of the farmers. That’s why in recent years this variety has become very popular and replaced the creeper,” explains Basavraju, another farmer.

Groundnut intercropping

Earlier, groundnut was the main crop and many other cereals were grown as intercrops. Fox millet, sesame, tur dal, field beans, and green gram were some of the intercrop choices. After every four, six, or twelve groundnut rows, these intercrops were sown. Other millet varieties were also grown as field border plants. These intercrops were mainly for the farmer’s personal use, rather than for commercial purposes. They were called ‘handy money crops’ in farmer’s lingo. Experienced farmers are of the opinion that these intercrops can protect and take the brunt of pest attacks on the main crop. These intercrops attracted birds, which ate pests, helping the farmers.

In recent years, farmers gradually stopped practicing intercropping. Intercropping demanded more labor. A dearth of farm labor, variations in rainfall, and drought conditions affected their yield. They felt that a single crop would give more yield, as these intercrops were taking nutrition from the main crop. During the initial years, a single crop seemed to give a better yield. It was also a convenient method, with less labor. After 2-3 years, this method demanded more fertilizers and pesticides. Pests became more prevalent and varied, and the yield began to decrease as well. “In spite of this situation, farmers are continuing with the single crop method for groundnut cultivation, “says Chandrappa, scientist and Joint Director of Babbur Agro Research Centre.

Profit and loss with climate change

Farmers are able to recognize the difference in groundnut yield with single crop and intercrop cultivation methods. Senior farmers, in particular, stress the difference. Veeresh of Bommasandra has been growing groundnut as single crop for the past ten years. “During my father’s time, we would get 40 bags of groundnuts per acre. Each bag would have 20 kg of groundnuts. Now the yield has fallen, mainly due to changes in rainfall, diseases, and increased pest attacks. Soil fertility has decreased.” He says, “We are hardly able to get 20 bags of yield per acre. Each bag holds only 10 kg of groundnuts.”Numbers, he continues, speak for themselves.

Eerajja, an old man now, reminisces that “Earlier, each plant would have 42 shells. Every seed was a good one. What we saw was what we got. Rain has changed all that now. We hardly have 20 shells per plant now. Most seeds are tiny, blackened, or hollow. There are hardly 20 ‘palla‘ per acre now. But still, not a loss.”

All of the factors are interlinked. Less rain means more disease. More disease means more pesticide spraying. This means the overall input cost escalates. But less yield means less income. The investment is greater than the income, feels farmer Veeresh.

Complementary activities

Along with the effects of climate change, other social factors also have influenced the crop yield. Farmers themselves realize this. Unfortunately, no one is ready to choose the alternate path.

Just about a decade ago, there were cattle and sheep in every other home. Poultry was raised. There was no shortage of farmyard manure. Very few farmers bought chemical fertilizers. Not only that, but groundnut growers would not buy any extra material to grow groundnuts. Every member of the joint family joined hands in farm activities. “Now, no one has cattle or rears sheep. Less rain means that there is no water in tube wells or bore wells. Quality seeds are difficult to procure. Youth are not inclined to do hard work. Seeds, fertilizer, labor, harvesting – everything costs money. In my father’s time, yield was definitely better,” says Veeresh of Bommasandra village. His father, Eerajja, puts it simply: “Groundnut is a mega crop. If it yields well, farmers count money in lakhs; if not, at least a few thousand rupees are assured. A hundred kilograms of seeds yields in quintals. Even in the worst situation (drought), we can still earn a little, if all family members work in the farm. We are able to grow groundnut in only six acres because of this traditional system.”

Changing social patterns

Another scientist, Dr. Kumar Naik, feels that stopping the intercrop system is one of the main reasons for low yield. Farmers with cattle, sheep and poultry were not dependent on chemical fertilizers. They would use the leaves of trees for manure. Along with improved yield, input costs were less. That’s why the yield was profitable.

“Use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides adversely affect the soil quality. Now, the soil does not hold moisture well. Moreover, youth are not interested in farming. Small families mean more money spent on farm labor,” says Jagadish from Gopanahalli, who is a graduate. With the help of labourers, he manages his eight-acre land as a ‘one man army. ‘He also does tailoring to generate additional income.

Scientific reasons

Scientist Dr. P.R. Seshagiri Rao, who has done extensive scientific study on the groundnut, sheds light on the relationship between weather and growth/yield from groundnut cultivation.

“Between 1960-1980, crop patterns changed all over the country. Market-centered higher yield became the priority. No one considered the effects of this change as important. Climate change had not substantially affected irrigation-dependent farmers. Subsequently, the most affected were the farmers who were dependent on rain for their crops.

“Rains and crop yield were not matched. The imbalance in this rain/crop equation is mainly seen in groundnut cultivation.” Dr. Seshagiri, who has analyzed the effect of climate change on core groundnut growing areas like Challakere, has opined that it is beyond our control. Now, he says, “we must adapt to the changing rain pattern.“

Another aspect, he explains, is that “Farmers just complain about the lack of rain. But they have not observed that even soil quality has gone down. The soil does not have any organic material, so as a result, its moisture holding capacity has reduced over time. Both soil and rain are factors that have a role in influencing groundnut yield.”Farmers cannot hold water on their farmland unless they improve soil quality. They must focus on improving the below-surface moisture level. Crops must be planned as per the moisture level.”

Oil mills closed

Low groundnut yield has affected businesses dependent on groundnut for their raw material. These include oil mills, their owners, and their workforces.

During the heyday of groundnut production, oil mills mushroomed in Challakere taluk. Challakere was named ‘Chota Bombay’ because of its numerous oil mills. Excellent groundnut yield turned Challakere taluk into a commercial hub. Between 1985-1995,Challakere had about 100 oil mills. Hiriyur, Pavgada, and Molakalmuru taluks also had good number of groundnut farmers. The good yield kept the mills running.

Good prices for their crop made the farmers aspire for more. They let go of the intercrop method so they could grow more groundnuts and earn more. Chemical fertilizer was promising higher yields so farmers went for it. Farmyard manure of cow dung, sheep dung, and green leaves were forgotten. Pesticide made from cow urine was a thing of the past. Step by step, farmers went into chemical farming. As a consequence, soil fertility decreased. Yield was high, but input cost was also high. Overall, the profit was not very high.

“Climate change manifested as less rain, and with the rampant usage of chemicals, yield was considerably reduced. One by one, oil mills shut shop. At the same time, sunflower oil and palm oil entered the market. Some farmers began growing these oil seeds. Mills closed and the workers were jobless. The groundnut oil market crashed, “explains Basavaraju from Challakere, who owned an oil mill.

These oil mills had provided employment to thousands of people. Many farmers were dependent on these mills for their livelihood. For 10 years, about 12,000 people were employed in these oil mills. Senior journalist G.S. Ujjinappa says, “People who depended on these mills migrated to cities in search of jobs. The number of farmers growing groundnut also decreased.”

Groundnut organic farming

In spite of all of the adversities created by climate change, reduced yield and increased pests, some farmers have not stopped growing groundnut. Just as the scientist said about moisture retention below the surface, these farmers have adopted these time-honoured practices and are managing with lower input costs.

Farmers felt that the groundnuts of this variety had less oil content. “It was cumbersome to clean, dry and process after harvest. Thus, more labor was used while harvesting this variety. The ‘Netti’ variety is much easier to process after harvest. The yield is satisfactory and the oil content is much better than in the creeper variety. So now most farmers use the ‘Netti’ groundnut,” says Veeresh, a farmer from Challakere taluk, Bommasandra village, who has been growing groundnuts for the past twenty years in his 6-acre farmland.

Farmers like ‘Netti’ nut

As with other varieties, the ‘Netti’ variety too is multi-purpose. After harvest, the shoot of the plant is used as fodder. The residue after the oil is extracted is used to make some agro products. The dry shell of the nuts can be used to make compost. The most important characteristic of ‘Netti’ is the oil content in the seeds. Another key factor is that this variety is hardy, with good yield even when there is less or more rainfall and variations in temperature. “These worked in favor of the farmers. That’s why in recent years this variety has become very popular and replaced the creeper,” explains Basavraju, another farmer.

Groundnut intercropping

Earlier, groundnut was the main crop and many other cereals were grown as intercrops. Fox millet, sesame, tur dal, field beans, and green gram were some of the intercrop choices. After every four, six, or twelve groundnut rows, these intercrops were sown. Other millet varieties were also grown as field border plants. These intercrops were mainly for the farmer’s personal use, rather than for commercial purposes. They were called ‘handy money crops’ in farmer’s lingo. Experienced farmers are of the opinion that these intercrops can protect and take the brunt of pest attacks on the main crop. These intercrops attracted birds, which ate pests, helping the farmers.

In recent years, farmers gradually stopped practicing intercropping. Intercropping demanded more labor. A dearth of farm labor, variations in rainfall, and drought conditions affected their yield. They felt that a single crop would give more yield, as these intercrops were taking nutrition from the main crop. During the initial years, a single crop seemed to give a better yield. It was also a convenient method, with less labor. After 2-3 years, this method demanded more fertilizers and pesticides. Pests became more prevalent and varied, and the yield began to decrease as well. “In spite of this situation, farmers are continuing with the single crop method for groundnut cultivation, “says Chandrappa, scientist and Joint Director of Babbur Agro Research Centre.

Profit and loss with climate change

Farmers are able to recognize the difference in groundnut yield with single crop and intercrop cultivation methods. Senior farmers, in particular, stress the difference. Veeresh of Bommasandra has been growing groundnut as single crop for the past ten years. “During my father’s time, we would get 40 bags of groundnuts per acre. Each bag would have 20 kg of groundnuts. Now the yield has fallen, mainly due to changes in rainfall, diseases, and increased pest attacks. Soil fertility has decreased.” He says, “We are hardly able to get 20 bags of yield per acre. Each bag holds only 10 kg of groundnuts.”Numbers, he continues, speak for themselves.

Eerajja, an old man now, reminisces that “Earlier, each plant would have 42 shells. Every seed was a good one. What we saw was what we got. Rain has changed all that now. We hardly have 20 shells per plant now. Most seeds are tiny, blackened, or hollow. There are hardly 20 ‘palla‘ per acre now. But still, not a loss.”

All of the factors are interlinked. Less rain means more disease. More disease means more pesticide spraying. This means the overall input cost escalates. But less yield means less income. The investment is greater than the income, feels farmer Veeresh.

Complementary activities

Along with the effects of climate change, other social factors also have influenced the crop yield. Farmers themselves realize this. Unfortunately, no one is ready to choose the alternate path.

Just about a decade ago, there were cattle and sheep in every other home. Poultry was raised. There was no shortage of farmyard manure. Very few farmers bought chemical fertilizers. Not only that, but groundnut growers would not buy any extra material to grow groundnuts. Every member of the joint family joined hands in farm activities. “Now, no one has cattle or rears sheep. Less rain means that there is no water in tube wells or bore wells. Quality seeds are difficult to procure. Youth are not inclined to do hard work. Seeds, fertilizer, labor, harvesting – everything costs money. In my father’s time, yield was definitely better,” says Veeresh of Bommasandra village. His father, Eerajja, puts it simply: “Groundnut is a mega crop. If it yields well, farmers count money in lakhs; if not, at least a few thousand rupees are assured. A hundred kilograms of seeds yields in quintals. Even in the worst situation (drought), we can still earn a little, if all family members work in the farm. We are able to grow groundnut in only six acres because of this traditional system.”

Changing social patterns

Another scientist, Dr. Kumar Naik, feels that stopping the intercrop system is one of the main reasons for low yield. Farmers with cattle, sheep and poultry were not dependent on chemical fertilizers. They would use the leaves of trees for manure. Along with improved yield, input costs were less. That’s why the yield was profitable.

“Use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides adversely affect the soil quality. Now, the soil does not hold moisture well. Moreover, youth are not interested in farming. Small families mean more money spent on farm labor,” says Jagadish from Gopanahalli, who is a graduate. With the help of labourers, he manages his eight-acre land as a ‘one man army. ‘He also does tailoring to generate additional income.

Scientific reasons

Scientist Dr. P.R. Seshagiri Rao, who has done extensive scientific study on the groundnut, sheds light on the relationship between weather and growth/yield from groundnut cultivation.

“Between 1960-1980, crop patterns changed all over the country. Market-centered higher yield became the priority. No one considered the effects of this change as important. Climate change had not substantially affected irrigation-dependent farmers. Subsequently, the most affected were the farmers who were dependent on rain for their crops.

“Rains and crop yield were not matched. The imbalance in this rain/crop equation is mainly seen in groundnut cultivation.” Dr. Seshagiri, who has analyzed the effect of climate change on core groundnut growing areas like Challakere, has opined that it is beyond our control. Now, he says, “we must adapt to the changing rain pattern.“

Another aspect, he explains, is that “Farmers just complain about the lack of rain. But they have not observed that even soil quality has gone down. The soil does not have any organic material, so as a result, its moisture holding capacity has reduced over time. Both soil and rain are factors that have a role in influencing groundnut yield.”Farmers cannot hold water on their farmland  unless they improve soil quality. They must focus on improving the below-surface moisture level. Crops must be planned as per the moisture level.”

Oil mills closed

Low groundnut yield has affected businesses dependent on groundnut for their raw material. These include oil mills, their owners, and their workforces.

During the heyday of groundnut production, oil mills mushroomed in Challakere taluk. Challakere was named ‘Chota Bombay’ because of its numerous oil mills. Excellent groundnut yield turned Challakere taluk into a commercial hub. Between 1985-1995,Challakere had about 100 oil mills. Hiriyur, Pavgada, and Molakalmuru taluks also had good number of groundnut farmers. The good yield kept the mills running.

Good prices for their crop made the farmers aspire for more. They let go of the intercrop method so they could grow more groundnuts and earn more. Chemical fertilizer was promising higher yields so farmers went for it. Farmyard manure of cow dung, sheep dung, and green leaves were forgotten. Pesticide made from cow urine was a thing of the past. Step by step, farmers went into chemical farming. As a consequence, soil fertility decreased. Yield was high, but input cost was also high. Overall, the profit was not very high.

“Climate change manifested as less rain, and with the rampant usage of chemicals, yield was considerably reduced. One by one, oil mills shut shop. At the same time, sunflower oil and palm oil entered the market. Some farmers began growing these oil seeds. Mills closed and the workers were jobless. The groundnut oil market crashed, “explains Basavaraju from Challakere, who owned an oil mill.

These oil mills had provided employment to thousands of people. Many farmers were dependent on these mills for their livelihood. For 10 years, about 12,000 people were employed in these oil mills. Senior journalist G.S. Ujjinappa says, “People who depended on these mills migrated to cities in search of jobs. The number of farmers growing groundnut also decreased.”

Groundnut organic farming

In spite of all of the adversities created by climate change, reduced yield and increased pests, some farmers have not stopped growing groundnut. Just as the scientist said about moisture retention below the surface, these farmers have adopted these time-honoured practices and are managing with lower input costs.

Intercrop method with Shenga promoted by Shashidhar

Shashidhar, a farmer from Challakere taluk, Siddeshwaranadurga village, is growing groundnut by following the nature-friendly intercrop method. He says, “I am not 100% following the organic method, but with minimum usage of chemicals along with farmyard manure, I am managing. I do not use any pesticide. I have been following this for the last 30 years. I grow fox millet, tur dal and sesame as intercrop.”

He and his brother Sridhar have inherited 36 acres of farmland from their father. Half of the land area is used for tree-based agriculture (horticulture) and the other half is used for food crops. Groundnut is cultivated as a cash crop. Around the groundnut fields, corn is grown. Trees are seen everywhere in his land. Trees and a variety of crops are sources of biodiversity. These help in maintaining nature’s balance. In fact, this environment supports yield of groundnut indirectly, as the groundnut crop thus has much fewer attacks from pests and diseases.

“Changes in rain patterns did not affect us much. Our crops did not face a water shortage, since the fertility is excellent. The crops could manage even slight delays in watering. This is the benefit of maintaining a diverse ecosystem,” Sridhar is happy to explain. If the farmer calculates the rain dates well, groundnut can be successfully grown. “Always sow your seeds according to the rain, then your crop will have fewer pests,” he advises.

Diversity is the key

Farmland must support many diverse creatures and plants. There must be space for birds and helpful insects. Only then will it be complete agricultural land. This is what the Shashidhar-Sridhar brothers have achieved. They have a small plot in their land where they grow corn only for the birds. This is strategically placed next to the groundnut field. As a result, the birds feast on the pests on groundnut plants and help them grow well. Intercropping also helps in pest reduction. If the moisture level in the soil is good, it helps the crop when there is a rain shortage. The brothers’ land has about 150 tamarind trees. There are also plenty of tropical fruit trees. Trees that have good foliage for manure are also grown. The intercrop method is followed without fail. These crops balance the low yield in case the main crop fails.

Agriculture and dairy farming complement each other. Farmyard manure can be made using cattle or sheep dung. This major scientific link between agricultural activities and dairy farming is followed by the brother duo. They have a herd of 19 cattle. They allow the sheep to graze in the fields. Most of the manure requirement is taken care of in this way. Thus, they strongly prove that interdependent activities keep nature’s balance intact and help in the success of groundnut cultivation.

Climate change has affected all agriculture-related fields. Despite these adverse effects, there are farmers who have fine-tuned to the changing climate and accordingly grow crops successfully. These people have set an example for other farmers to follow. If the whole agricultural system can be thus improved, this could stand out as a timely remedy to climate change.

Credits:

This article was originally written in Kannada. Translated to English by Divya Sharma, and edited by Suresh Mathew.

About the author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

clear formPost comment