Local Farmers

Andaman farmers reshape land for better farming.

Sharda Balasubramanian | June 2020 Village Square, Andaman Islands


“When the tsunami struck, I saw the road crack open and I clung to a tree desperate to save my life.”

Tapan Mondal,
Farmer from the southern part of the Andaman Islands

After the tsunami, most farmers stopped paddy cultivation due to extreme soil salinity. Frequent cyclones and changing tides have also impacted agriculture in the islands. In January this year, just after Cyclone Pabuk hit the archipelago, banana plantations collapsed. Severe winds damaged vegetable crops too. “We build machans to protect okra and beans; however, due to severe winds, the machans broke and there was nothing we could do,” Datta said. Machans are built with tree branches to support the growth of climbing plants, but they break easily during severe storms.

“Early weather warnings are not of much help,” Datta added. “Can we stop the water from entering the land or the wind from blowing? We can do nothing about natural calamities. Sometimes, we just use nets and save our crop at the last moment.” Devising solutions to these challenges can be tough here because land availability is limited to 50,000 hectares, the total land area of all the islands that comprise the archipelago. In addition, most of the islands are covered in forest and so farming solutions had to maximize production within this restricted land space.

“As we have standardized the method, if the government funds farmers to build them, it will be greatly beneficial. There will be less dependency on Chennai market, and a significant reduction in transport cost as well,”

Dutta,
Farmer from the southern part of the Andaman Islands

Need for more government support

After cyclones, the government typically provides financial aid to affected communities through district or village councils or the agriculture department. But farmers say it seldom reaches them. “The middlemen take a commission. They give us Rs 500, get our signatures, and then add a zero later to the amount,” said Datta. “Let the money come into the farmer’s account – to the one who owns the land.”

Farmers also say it would help if the government could provide seeds so they wouldn’t have to buy them from private companies. When the land-shaping project started the government helped build and implement it in the Andaman as a part of a pilot to look at its effectiveness and determine if it worked for the farmers. Velmurugan says the government should now provide farmers with work opportunities by hiring them to build the farm ponds and other land-shaping structures.

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