Monday, May 25, 2015

Little Boy, Big Trouble!

The weather has been unseasonal, but that is normal for an El Nino year which is why Sikkim should not allow itself to be caught off-guard


Do not let the ongoing spate of unseasonally heavy downpours fool you. “The Little Boy” of climate flux has arrived, the Australian met department having recently declared the oceanic temperatures to be registering as a “major” El Niño pattern. For those in Sikkim who might seek solace in their distance from the oceans, and hence untouched by their warming, the language of the alarm sounded by climate experts should force a rethink – these scientists are seeing the “return of El Niño like some enraged climate-driven Godzilla emerging from the depths of the South Pacific to lay waste entire regions”!
But Climate scientists [is that even an accepted profession?] are known to be alarmist, so let us go by statistics which have already been registered. 2014 produced the highest global temperatures since records began in the 1880s. An El Nino year this year will mean that the summer is going to be even more or a scorcher. A depressed monsoon is on the cards, predicted even by Indian met officials, and news from the plains suggests that the mercury is the mood to climb record highs this year. Such projections might appear improbable given the continuing lashing of Sikkim by the unreasonably heavy unseasonal rainfall, but it is highly unlikely that the El Nino projections will not come true.
IPL fans will know from the more than normal number of matches lost to rain that large parts of the country has been receiving robust pre-monsoon showers, but that is no sign, meteorologists insist, that the monsoon is out of harm’s way. A brewing El Nino has got substantially stronger, appearing on radars as fully formed for the first time since 2010, while a local weather pattern that can sap the monsoon is forming over the Arabian Sea.
At one level, a slightly “depressed” monsoon should not be much of a worry for the more than abundant inundation that Sikkim receives in “normal” years, but a hotter summer will carry substantial worries for the fields and farms here.
To get a sense of how rural Sikkim can be adversely affected, let us first take stock of how changes in the pre-monsoon weather patterns has impacted the rural Sikkimese.
The direct impact of this year’s unseasonal weather is already noticeable in the haat bazaars.
Unseasonal rainfall, accompanied by storms and heavy hailstorms, have damaged the crops and vegetables in the villages. And no area has been left unaffected. Areas spared by hail have lost crops and vegetables to water-logging.
Farmers inform that due to excessive water logging on their fields, the growth and development of plants and vegetables has stalled and its adverse effect can be seen in how local veggies have gone rare from vegetable stalls here.
The vegetable vendors at Lall Bazar as well as other places are hardly selling any local vegetables at present. The reason, all vegetables hawkers echo, “No supply from the farmers.”
By this time, the haats should be overflowing with local vegetables like tomatoes, cauliflowers, broccoli, raya saag, grean beans, lady fingers, bittergourd, squash, cucumber etc. This year, one can hardly catch the aroma of these local produces in the market.
“My supply used to come from Singtam and Ranipool, but this season I am not getting any supply,” informs a vegetable vendor of Daragaon, Tadong. She informed that whatever supply of “local sabji” she is getting is of very low quality and costing very high.
“Green beans are coming with black patches while tomatoes, cauliflowers and broccoli are totally missing,” she said, adding that even Eskus and Farsi ko munta are in short supply as well and of poor quality.
When contacted, farmer after farmer confirmed that production has been poor because first the hail destroyed crops and then the weather remained too cold for seeds to germinate and now the fields are too water logged because of continuous rainfall.
“Last season, I used to earn around Rs. 2,000 per week selling green vegetables including Eskus ko munta. This year, the beans are spoiled, Eskus is not leaving the ground and cucumber plants have died,” says Lakit Lepcha of Barbing near Rey Khola.
But one Sunil Rai, a progressive farmer of the same area claimed that his maize fields were not hit by the hailstorms and advantage of this is that he is selling Hariyo Makkai for Rs. 20 for a set of three pieces. The greenhouse technology he opted for in advance is giving him good earnings as he is also selling fresh tomatoes at Rs. 40 per kg. He informed that he had already sold around 90 kgs of tomatoes this season and another 40 Kg consignment is ready for sale.
Obviously, farmers need to adapt to the changing weather patterns, prepare better for El Nino events and adopt technology.
To understand the technical aspects of this weather condition, when NOW! contacted officials of the ICAR Research Complex for North East Region, Sikkim Centre here at Daragaon, Tadong, they maintained that this year’s weather is unseasonal and confirmed projections that it will affect crop and vegetable production.
A senior official at ICAR maintained that climate change and variability are a considerable threat to agricultural communities and this threat includes the likely increase of extreme weather conditions, increased water stress and drought and desertification as well as adverse health effects.
“Our research of the last three decades shows that Sikkim is experiencing hot and dry winters and uneven distribution of rainfall through the year,” the officer said.
He adds, “This will certainly affect the farmers in the long run but we have developed several technologies through which farmers can offset the impact.”
According to him, shifting the cultivation [sowing] season can save the farmers from incurring heavy losses. Giving an example, the official informed that the traditional period of maize cultivation in Sikkim is the month of February, but this year, those who cultivated maize late in April hardly incurred any productivity loss. Why? According to him, the hailstorms took place in the early weeks of April and damaged fields cultivated in February.
He adds that as per the ICAR’s research, through green crops technology, maize can be cultivated during April and harvested in July. The land can be reused to cultivate paheli dal and harvested in October. This land can again be used to cultivate buck wheat, which can be harvested in end-February.
“Maize needs water and through monsoon rains it can survive. The other two crops do not need irrigation and this option will compensate the farmers well,” he said adding that this technology will give 300% more yield to the farmers.
Meanwhile, ICAR scientists elsewhere in the NER point out that the region faced a largely rainless winter in 2014, followed by deficit to scanty rainfall during summer (Mar-May). The pre-monsoon crops (Maize, vegetables etc.) suffered from serious water stress initially and then from spells of hailstorms which severely damaged the standing crop. With monsoon projected to be weaker and the summer temperatures higher, they advise farmers to go for preparation of community nurseries; to manage water stress repair the field bunds and undertake weeding more extensively; provide sufficient drainage in vegetable fields to avoid water logging; be especially vigilant against pest/ disease outbreak and consult agri-specialists for their effective management; keep their livestock vaccinated, provide clean drinking water and do de-worming in regular intervals.
For the rest of Sikkim, it is perhaps time that it tracked weather patterns closer and understood climate events like El Nino better…

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