- Farmers and horticulture experts in Andhra Pradesh’s Chittoor and Tirupati districts, expect a significant decrease in mango crop yield this year. Scientists link unprecedented rainfall and heavy pesticide usage, to this fall in yield.
- The Chittoor district received a rainfall of 688 mm against a normal 395.4 mm, a deviation of 74 percent during the northeast monsoon in the months of October, November and December 2021.
- Horticulture scientists say that late flowering and fruit setting, heavy usage of chemicals for the first spray and the increase in number of male flowers, will impact the mango yield this year.
Janardhan Reddy, a mango farmer with eight acres of land, is worried about the fall in the yield of his crops. The 50-year-old farmer, from the Madithativaripalli village of Nerabilu gram panchayat that falls in the Yerravaripalem mandal of Tirupati district in Andhra Pradesh, says that he would hardly get 10 tonnes of the crop this season. This is against the regular annual yield of 40 tonnes.
Another farmer, B. Vasudeva Reddy, living 70 kilometres south of Madithativaripalli, at Abbireddivuru village in Poothalapattu mandal of Chittoor district, faces a similar challenge. He says that his 12-acre mango farm would fetch him 50 percent of the crop. Other farmers in his locality expect only 30 percent yield.
The mango crop is spread over an area of 2.76 lakh (276,000) acres in the erstwhile Chittoor district (before the recent district separation by the Andhra Pradesh government, into Chittoor and Tirupati districts), according to the Chittoor Horticulture Department.
Horticulture scientist D. Sreenivasulu Reddy, Citrus Research Station, Dr. YSR Horticulture University, connects the loss of yield with the unprecedented heavy rains that the drought-prone Rayalaseema region (where Chittoor and Tirupati lie) received between October 2021 and January 2022. The region receives more rains normally during the northeast monsoon between September and November. The Chittoor district however received a rainfall of 688 mm against a normal 395.4 mm, a deviation of 74 percent during the northeast monsoon in the months of October, November, and December 2021.
Unprecedented rains in drought-prone Rayalaseema
Rayalaseema is a region in Andhra Pradesh that comprises of eight districts that includes Chittoor and Tirupati. Weather experts at the National Atmospheric Research Laboratory (NARL) located in Gadanki, Chittoor district of the Rayalaseema region state that the changes in precipitation patterns have been visible since 2012, owing to a slow change in the IICZ (Inter Tropical Convergent Zone), a result of climate change. They say that the changes caused by anthropogenic activities cannot be denied any more.
Being a rain-shadow region, rains evade Rayalaseema during June and July. The region receives more rains during the north east monsoon months of October, November and December. “This holds true for both Rayalaseema and Tamil Nadu,” says Amit P. Kesarkar, a scientist at the NARL.
When cyclones also occur, they lead to a deluge, Kesarkar says adding, “There is now a southward shift in occurrence of south west monsoon emanating from the Arabian Sea, leading to more rains for Rayalaseema and TN. Normally the rains were not severe before, but the southward expansion of monsoonal flow has increased chances of rain in the region over the last decade.”
Asked what is causing this shift, he states that the La Nina phase is making the Western Pacific Ocean warmer which leads to frequent easterly waves over the Indian Ocean. “The low-pressure areas which develop inside easterly waves is a combination of regional weather as well as probably climate change. Depressions which are happening inside the easterly waves are leading to more rains for South India on the whole,” Kesarkar elaborates.
“While Rayalaseema region has received more rains in the last three years, the region was drought-hit between 1995 and 2005 leading to huge shift in the cropping pattern from groundnut, paddy and sugarcane to others crops, especially horticulture in the region,” says Amit Kumar Patra, Director, NARL.
Read more: [Explainer] What factors affect the Indian summer monsoon?
Extended rains and pesticide usage
The extended rainfall in the region, between October 2021 and January 2022, resulted in higher-than-usual moisture in the soil. This led to a delay in flowering by more than a month. The flowering which had to start by end of December 2021 and had to be complete by the time of Sankranthi (the harvest festival in the region), around January 15, 2022, did not start in January at all. The delayed flowering in February led to a delay in fruit setting too.
Explaining the fall in fruit setting, Sreenivasulu Reddy says, “For the onset of flowering, the difference in the day and night temperatures should be 11 to 12 degrees. As these conditions were favourable by the end of January, trees began to flower. Worried about the late onset of flowering, farmers sprayed chemical inputs on trees. As temperatures began to rise early this year, this difference in day and night temperatures ended up leading to more usage of chemicals on plants to retain the flowering. There has been a heavy usage of chemicals like Thiamethoxam and Lambda medicines on trees for the first spray on the mango crop. I believe that the yield this year would be just 30 percent of the normal yield.”
While the horticulture department states that they have held several meetings with farmers to help them improve their situation, Vasudeva Reddy who claims that he is in touch with the horticulture department shares, “If someone like me had not got wind of the meetings, then I wonder how many have actually benefited through these meetings.”
Mango is a highly weather-influenced crop. With the fall in flowering, the rising temperatures led a majority of trees into vegetative growth without fruits, which in-turn gave impetus to insects that grew with the conducive weather.
Farmers like Janardhan Reddy say that searing heat continues to cause further damage to the fruits still in the tender stage. M. Venkatarami Reddy, Janardhan’s neighbour, with a 22-acre mango plantation shares, “The removal of subsidy for the drip irrigation scheme, crucial for the horticulture crops, over the last two years has affected the yield. I hope the government keeps its word on reviving the scheme and implements it at the earliest.”
While the farmers expect the government to step in, Sreenivasulu Reddy echoes their opinion and also hopes that the farmers stop relying on pesticides. He says, “Having established Rythu Bharosa Kendras (a state-government scheme for providing financial assistance for farmers) at the panchayat level to reach out to farmers, the government should have educated farmers on usage of pesticides through a special drive and distributed bio pesticides. The farmers relied on the advice of chemical fertiliser and pesticide dealers, who sell products which fetch them higher margins. This would have helped farmers in avoiding the usage of harmful chemicals and helped in avoiding a self-inflicted harm to the flowering.”
In this milieu, M.V. Subba Reddy, Deputy Director, Horticulture, Tirupati, pegs the early estimates of mango yield to be around 1,17,320 tonnes. A normal yield in the district’s 69,188 acres would be around 2,80,000 metric tonnes. “This is 40 percent of the normal yield. Apart from other reasons, late flowering increased the number of male flowers leading to a fall in the yield. The output of table variety of mangoes would be even less per acre. This is the condition in the entire state,” he explained.
Regarding the vegetative growth, B. Srinivasulu, Deputy Director of Horticulture in Chittoor, says, “The plantations have trees with good crop along with those with few fruits and some are visibly sans fruits. It’s difficult to make correct predictions this time. For that we will have to do crop cutting experiments to arrive at a figure. This time there are fruits of sizes varying from 500 gms to even 50 gms in the same tree. This happened as flowering occurred in phases. We are expecting a 30 percent fall in production in all.”
The same phenomenon had led to fall in lime production in Andhra Pradesh, the biggest producer of the crop, and led to higher prices across the country recently.
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Banner image: M. Venkatarami Reddy, a farmer from the village of Nerabilu gram panchayat in Tirupati district, at his 22-acre mango farm. Photo by G Ram Mohan.