Freaky weather leaves fruit bowl bitter in Southern India

Tue, Dec 30, 2008

Indian Climate Change

I have been contacted by a journalist from the online version of The Hindu – India’s national newspaper. Sudhi read my previous blog about the environmental issues facing Kerala and kindly sent me an interesting piece he wrote about how climate change is affecting the growth of fruit and vegetables in Kerala.

Its a similar story to the UK but with far more serious implications for poorer Indian farmers whose very existence is dependent upon regular crop production. Unseasonal weather means that the flowering times for many fruits and vegetables are no longer guaranteed.

As an agricultural state, Kerala relies on its fruit and production to feed half of its 31 million population. Key crops include rice  -Kerala’s most important staple food and cereal crop – coconut, tea, coffee (23% of Indian production) rubber, cashews, and spices—including pepper, cardamom, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg.The State is  the major producer and exporter of pepper, accounting for 94 percent of the total area and 96 percent of the total peper production in India. Recent weather fluctuations are seriously affecting its abillity to maintain levels of pepper production to provide for farmers who depend on high yields for their income.

Photographs of the spice market in Fort Cochin where crops are processed for domestic and overseas markets.

Fluctuating crops and prices are a heavy burden on small farmers in India. Between 1997 and 2005, more than 150,000 farmers across India committed suicide, of which nearly 8% were from Kerala (11,516). Climate change is yet another factor that these farmers are facing in an uncertain future as Sudhi explains in his informative article:

KANTHALLOOR (Idukki district): Rain, mist and the wintry weather have become unpredictable here. The changing weather patterns have started affecting life at an altitude of over 5,000 ft above sea level. Is climate change to blame?

Kanthalloor, the only winter vegetable and fruit-growing centre of Kerala, bordering Tamil Nadu, is experiencing unprecedented weather changes.

Apple, strawberry, orange, cherimoya, plum, guava, gooseberry, peach and passion fruit… The fruit bowl of the hill station is rich and diverse. Cauliflower, cabbage, carrot, beans, potato, beetroot and garlic are the vegetables cultivated. Early settlers remember that most of their lives were drenched in rain and draped in mist. And life was hard at the dizzy heights.

Rain played a major role in their lives. It used to rain for eight months together during the early 1980s, remembers G.P. Ajith, planter.

“The cracking sound of frost on wet grass used to greet us when stepping out from the warm interiors of the houses. But rain and mist have thinned and temperature has gone up over the years,” he says. The variations in weather have influenced fruit production, be it in the quantity or the size, he said while plucking a strawberry from his orchard.

The flowering season of apple and many other fruit trees has changed. Apple trees used to bloom in February, indicating the beginning of spring.

The trees used to be weighed down by fruits during the harvest season, he says. P.K. Thankaraj, former chieftain of the Perumalayar, near Kanthalloor, says the unprecedented rain last year had affected garlic farming. “Three crops of garlic were damaged in the rain and I have never seen such inclement weather earlier,” says the 70-year-old farmer. The rain patterns have changed and there is unprecedented heat, he says.

S. Krishna Pillai, farmer, says the plum trees now flower ahead of schedule.

They used to flower in March. But this year, the flowering started in November. Sadly, the flowers are decaying in the rain and there will be a dip in fruit production, Mr. Pillai fears. The average production from a tree used to be around 2 quintals and this has dropped considerably.


This post was written by:

- who has written 872 posts on My Climate Change Garden.

I am not an experienced gardener - more of an enthusiastic amateur who learns by trial and error and who is keen to "manage" the effects of shifting weather patterns on my garden. Writing this blog is my passion and it has evolved over 12 years to inspire engagement with climate change outside our back doors, in our personal gardens and green spaces. My mission is to fertilise and expand this platform to grow a community of global gardeners communicating about the effects of climate change on our plants and exploring how each individual can make small changes in our lives to become more sustainable. The future of our gardens and #OurPlanet is in our hands - please plant your own seeds for our collective sustainable future.

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