Rising sea forces villagers to abandon rice farming

As the sea level rises due to climate change and the land turns more saline, farmers in Tamil Nadu on India’s Bay of Bengal coast are forced to give up rice cultivation

The northeast monsoon is here and farmers across the southern state of Tamil Nadu are busy planting their crops. But, there is a lull in Elandarmade, a coastal village at one edge of the Cauvery delta in Cuddalore district. Sea level rise and salinity ingress have turned large tracts of agricultural land in the village into wasteland, making it difficult for the 120 families to grow their traditional crop of paddy. Most farmers own only 1-4 acres of land.

“About 12-15 years ago, we used to have three cycles of paddy crop in a year. October used to be a busy month for us as we used to plant paddy,” narrates Annadurai Patteswami, a farmer from Elandarmade in South Pichavaram. “But for more than a decade now, no one in the village has been able to grow paddy in October. Our paddy cycle has shifted to January because seawater submerges our land for a large part of the year.”

To address seawater intrusion and salinity ingress, ever year villagers create an embankment, but the structure is unable to keep the sea at bay and breaches regularly. “The rate at which the sea is coming close to us makes us believe that soon it will engulf our entire village. Our farming has already gone kaput,” laments K. Kannan, 55-year-old secretary of the local farmers’ association. According to him, villagers have been demanding a permanent cement embankment from the public works department (PWD) to keep the village safe from the sea. But, no action has been taken on that front.

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