Amphan ruins Rabi crops, stubs dreams of coastal Odisha farmers

As cyclone damages acres of crops and betel vines in coastal hamlets, experts say govt should do rapid assessment of damage to ensure that farmers, already hit by COVID-19, don't suffer further

Jaydev, a farmer in Kankadapal hamlet of Odisha's Balasore district sits by his crop of groundnuts, damaged by the cyclone. Photo: Debi Mohanty

It’s been two days since Cyclone Amphan battered his hamlet before making a landfall near the Sunderbans, but 29-year-old Jaydev Das, a farmer at Kankadapal in Chaumukh panchayat of northern Odisha’s Balasore district, is yet to figure out ways that could bring his life back on track.

His crop of groundnuts, which was about to be harvested, lies submerged in water. A few hundred metres away, his paddy crop sagging into the water, creates an equally pathetic picture.

When hope turns into despair

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Cyclone Amphan, which barrelled through the state, bringing gale and rain along, has damaged acres of Rabi crops and betel vines in coastal hamlets like Jaydev’s, leaving farmers in dire straits.

“Cyclone Amphan has completely shattered me. I don’t know what to do now, everything looks blank,” Jaydev says.

Related news: Revisiting Amphan’s predecessor, the Super Cyclone of 1999

The eldest among five siblings, Jaydev dropped out of school after Class 9 to support his father Manmath Das, 54, in farming. Besides cultivating their 1.5 acre land, the father-son duo grows crops on sharing basis as well.

The 420-odd families along the sea-side village of Kankadapal follow the same pattern: they grow paddy in the Kharif season and groundnut and paddy in the Rabi season.

Expecting a good return, Jaidev says he had spent the ₹35,000 he saved for his sister’s marriage, on the crop. “I expected a good return. We would have gone for the harvest in a couple of weeks,” he rues.

Jaydev, on an average, earns around ₹50, 000 from groundnut grown on one acre land, per annum. This time, he expected the return to exceed ₹60,000.

Besides saving the money for his sister Saraswati’s wedding, he had planned to use it to renovate his dingy, three-room asbestos-roofed house.

Though his younger brothers worked as migrant labourers in a knitting unit near Tirupur in Tamilnadu, Jaydev preferred to stay back with his parents. Last March, just weeks before the nationwide lockdown was clamped, one of his brothers, Budhadeb (20) had returned home. The other two, Biswadip (26) and Sahdeb (24), arrived last week. Both of them, along with 28 other youths from nearby areas, pooled in ₹1.5 lakh that they spent on hiring the bus, which ran for four days before dropping them at Baliapal, the block headquarters. Since then, they have been at the quarantine facility in Baliapal.

“I would have preferred migrating to Tamil Nadu with them and work there. But COVID-19 has shut down that option as well,” Jaydev says.

Fishing, cashew plantation affected

Chaumukh Panchayat Sarpanch Narayan Khatua says apart from damaging paddy and groundnut crops, the cyclone has affected betel vines and cashew plantation in the villages under the panchayat. Of the 2,600 households in his panchayat, roughly 30 per cent depend on fishing alone; boats of many of them have been damaged.

Jaydev’s neighbour and cousin Sudam Dad, 32, who lost his groundnut crop to the storm says his damaged betel vines will also be of little use now. “All my efforts were washed away in just four to five hours,” he says.

The impact of the cyclone has also left many houses in a decrepit condition, compounding the woes of farmers who are already bogged down by crop loss.

“Around 800 families in the panchayat lived in kuchha houses, made of mud and bamboo walls with thatched roofs. Till the afternoon of Thursday, I have received applications from 1,200 people whose kitchen or cow shed has been badly impacted by the cyclone,” Khatua says.

Thirty two-year-old Ashok Rout, another farmer who has lost his betel vines and groundnut crop in the cyclone says the “losses will take years to make up.”

Related news: Amphan’s fury conjures up memories of uncanny cousin- 1737 Bengal cyclone

According to a senior officer in Baliapal block administration, the local revenue inspector (RI) will carry out the assessment and affected people like Jaydev will be paid the compensation. “Assessment will take two to three days. All the affected people will be provided assistance,” the officer said.

However, disaster and development management expert NM Prusty says that in a post disaster situation, the government should make use of technology for rapid assessment of damage for a quick response. “The prime task of the day is restoration of livelihood of the most vulnerable and marginalised sections in the society. They already have been pushed to the wall by the COVID 19 pandemic. The quicker we respond, the better it is for the people.”

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