Into the ginger trap

Farm­ers from Ker­ala make big bucks by grow­ing ginger in Kar­nataka but leave be­hind a trail of pol­lu­tion

Down to Earth - - AGRICULTURE - M SU­CHI­TRA |

Gin Kar­nataka, INGER CUL­TI­VA­TION mainly done by mi­grant farm­ers from Ker­ala, is catch­ing on af­ter a brief hia­tus. Ginger is in­creas­ingly be­ing grown in the Western Ghats dis­tricts of Ut­tara Kan­nada, Dak­shina Kan­nada, Has­san, Shi­moga, Chikka­m­a­galuru, Udupi, Kodagu and Mysore, com­pris­ing the Male­nadu re­gion.

And it is not only the mi­grant farm­ers who are cul­ti­vat­ing ginger. Na­tive farm­ers, too, are turn­ing to the cash crop due to its high mar­ket price. “In the last sea­son, I earned 24 lakh from one hectare of ginger

` cul­ti­va­tion. My in­vest­ment was just 4 lakh

` since it was my own land, ”says N R Lankesh, a farmer in Shikaripura taluk in Shi­moga.

What the farm­ers are ig­nor­ing is the harm­ful ef­fect of ginger cul­ti­va­tion on the en­vi­ron­ment. Ginger is prone to rhi­zome rot vi­ral dis­ease. Since farm­ers do not want to risk crop fail­ure, they use large quan­ti­ties of chem­i­cals—pes­ti­cides, her­bi­cides, fungi­cides, in­sec­ti­cides and fer­tilis­ers—to pre­vent crop dis­eases and in­crease yield. Although a plot of land is leased for three to five years, farm­ers cul­ti­vate their crop for only a year and then move to newer pas­tures, leav­ing be­hind an in­fer­tile plot of land laced with pes­ti­cides (see ‘Why ginger farm­ers keep mov­ing’, p18). Such shift­ing cul­ti­va­tion is lead­ing to large-scale en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion in the Western Ghats, a bio­di­ver­sity hotspot and a unesco World Her­itage Site.

Last year, a study con­ducted by the Cen­tre for Eco­log­i­cal Sciences (ces) un­der the In­dian In­sti­tute of Sciences, Ben­galuru, found that in­dis­crim­i­nate use of chem­i­cals has led to the loss of bio­di­ver­sity and con­tam­i­na­tion of soil, rivers, lakes, streams

and wet­lands. “This has had ad­verse im­pacts on hu­mans, cat­tle, flora, fauna and aquatic life,” says T V Ra­machan­dra, se­nior sci­en­tist at ces and lead au­thor of the study.

Fish, crabs and frogs are dis­ap­pear­ing from streams and lakes close to the ginger farms, while honey bees are aban­don­ing their hives in forests. Rivers such as the Varada, Ku­mud­vati, Tunga and the Bhadra are pol­luted by chem­i­cal residues from ginger fields. “Wa­ter from these rivers is used for ir­ri­ga­tion as well as for drink­ing,” says Nan­dish S, an or­ganic paddy farmer in Shikaripura.

Ac­tivists point out that in ginger-cul­ti­vat­ing ar­eas like Banavasi in Dak­shina Kan­nada dis­trict, doc­tors are in­creas­ingly get­ting cases of al­ler­gies and ill­nesses re­lated to the brain, heart, in­tes­tine and lungs. How­ever, no study has been con­ducted by the state to es­tab­lish whether these dis­eases are due to chem­i­cal use in ginger farms. “Be­sides health prob­lems, in­creas­ing ginger cul­ti­va­tion is ru­in­ing tra­di­tional crop prac­tices in Male­nadu,” says Anant Hegde Ashis­ara, pres­i­dent of Vrik­sha­lak­sha An­dolana, Kar­nataka, a non-profit work­ing for en­vi­ron­ment pro­tec­tion, which had com­mis­sioned the ces study.

Mi­grant farm­ers to blame?

More than 400 hectares (ha) of forest­land in Male­nadu is un­der ginger cul­ti­va­tion. Last year, at least 13,000 farmer groups from Ker­ala cul­ti­vated ginger on around 50,000 ha, shows data from the Ker­ala Ginger Grow­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion. In Shikaripura, area un­der ginger in­creased from 5,200 ha in 2013 to 6,000 ha in 2014. Food crops, mainly paddy and maize, are be­ing in­creas­ingly re­placed by ginger. M Viswanath, deputy di­rec­tor, hor­ti­cul­ture, Shi­moga, says that in 2014, ginger re­placed about 2,000 ha of maize in the dis­trict.

Hegde blames mi­grant farm­ers for this dan­ger­ous trend. “About 10 years ago, farm­ers from Ker­ala started ginger cul­ti­va­tion in the core ar­eas of forests in Dak­shina Kan­nada and Kodagu dis­tricts. This led to en­croach­ment and degra­da­tion of the for­est ecosys­tem,” he says in the study.

Sibi Thomas, a 35-year-old farmer from Ker­ala’s Wayanad dis­trict, owns a 10-hectare ginger farm in Shi­moga dis­trict. He started ginger cul­ti­va­tion in his home town and sub­se­quently shifted his farm­ing to Kodagu, Dak­shina Kan­nada and Shi­moga. “Un­like Ker­ala, vast stretches of land are avail­able in Kar­nataka on lease for farm­ing and labour is cheap. Dis­tricts such as Shi­moga are re­ally good for grow­ing ginger as wa­ter is aplenty, soil is fer­tile and cli­mate is suit­able,” he says.

The mi­grant farm­ers cross the bor­der to Kar­nataka to grow their crop and leave once they reap the prof­its of the harvest, dur­ing Fe­bru­ary-April, only to re­turn in the next plant­ing sea­son, which be­gins be­fore the south­west mon­soon. “While the mi­grant farm­ers go back to their state with the rich harvest with­out pay­ing any tax, they leave be­hind a plethora of en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems,” says Vivek Cari­appa, an or­ganic farmer from H D Kote taluk in Mysore.

No crack­down on pes­ti­cide sale

The state gov­ern­ment has done lit­tle to check the dam­age. While 34 pes­ti­cides are banned in the state, many of these are still sold in lo­cal shops to ginger farm­ers. Man­ju­nath S, who runs a fer­tilis­ers and chem­i­cals shop in Shikaripura, says that his busi­ness has gone up by 60-70 per cent in the past five years.He at­tributes this to ginger cul­ti­va­tion.

The gov­ern­ment has en­trusted drug con­trollers with the task of mon­i­tor­ing chem­i­cal shops to check the sale of pes­ti­cides in the state.But ac­tivists point out that mon­i­tor­ing hardly takes place. Pes­ti­cides worth 2 crore

` are sold in Male­nadu ev­ery year, men­tions the study. Of­fi­cials dis­agree. “No banned pes­ti­cides or other chem­i­cals are sold in Kar­nataka. These are brought by the mi­grant farm­ers from Ker­ala,” coun­ters K B Dundi, joint di­rec­tor, plan­ta­tion crops, state depart­ment of hor­ti­cul­ture.

ces has pro­posed mea­sures to mit­i­gate the haz­ards of ginger farm­ing. One of them is stop­ping the trad­ing of banned chem­i­cals. The study also sug­gests that the for­est depart­ment should re­strict ar­eas un­der ginger cul­ti­va­tion in eco-sen­si­tive zones. They should urge dis­trict agri­cul­ture cen­tres and agri­cul­ture univer­si­ties and in­sti­tutes to help farm­ers shift from chem­i­cal-in­ten­sive farm­ing to or­ganic ginger farm­ing.

REUTERS In Kar­nataka, labour for ginger cul­ti­va­tion is

cheap and land is easily avail­able on lease

AJEEB KO­MACHI

Shi­moga dis­trict in Kar­nataka at­tracts many farm­ers from Ker­ala be­cause of its fer­tile soil

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