Fish farmers of Munroe Island (Munroe thuruthu) in Kollam have been severely hit by the devastating Kerala deluge. No surprises here; as inland fisheries in most of Kerala have been affected by the flood fury. But what makes the case of Munroe Island special is that it is, like most of Kuttanad in Alappuzha, is a land lying below the sea level. There is not much hope for such a place in case of a deluge and the farmers here are still counting the losses; hoping for financial support from the government to restart their lives.
“Farmers in this village have lost everything. They need at least Rs200,00 per hectare to restart their farming,” says Binu Karunakaran, President of Munroe Island Panchayath (Village Council).
“We have only small-scale farmers here. They are not in a position to raise the money themselves. Especially when they have already suffered huge losses. The government should come up with some special financial package to support them and I am afraid we will otherwise be seeing mass suicides here,” Karunakaran said.
Gopalakrishnan is a Munroe Island farmer whose livelihood has been devastated by the flood. He was one of the pioneers of fish farming in the area. He started it some 22 years ago by taking loans and with the help of government agencies.
Gopalakrishanan was a successful farmer who cultivated prawn, pearl spot, crab all of which had huge demand in the market. He also has fish hatcheries. In fact he holds a record for developing 600,000 hatchlings from a single mother prawn, says Gopalakrishnan.
“In the early days it was like a goldmine,” says he. “Especially after we started growing the prawns. We made good money,” Gopalakrishnan said.
They had also faced occasional issues. Like when prawns fell prey to various diseases. And the returns later dwindled due to high prices of fish feed, which is imported from Vietnam. But business was more or less okay until this year.
Most of his fish have been washed away or dead. It was especially hard because he - like others - was keeping his crop for sales during Onam.
Like most of the fish farmers, he knows only one job and he is not ready to give up very easily.
But it is not a very easy task and farmers alone cannot repair the damage inflicted on huge tracts of land by the flood waters.
For example, for fish farming the required pH level of water is 7. However, post flood, there is a change in pH levels of the water in the area has become acidic. This needs to be rectified fast. What makes matters worse is that the barriers of most of the canals and ponds have been damaged by the flood. They need to be repaired before salinity can be fixed and it is not a task the farmers alone can do.
Binu Karunakaran said that fish farmers in his village lost more than Rs15million and he has already informed the authorities of the impact of the floods.
They are trying to protect whatever stock has been left and move on with life, but without definitive support from government agencies, there will not a bright future in this business for a long time to come.