Karnataka has 5 lakh acre of arecanut plantation, where more than 15 lakh families dependent on its annual crop income. Karnataka is largest producer of the beetulnut / supari / arecanut. Most of the western ghat region of 4 districts grows arecanut along with semi-costal region of 3 districts of Karnataka. Average acreage of the farmers differs from district to taluks which ranges from less than 1 acre to 10 acres per farmer family. However they have been growing arecanut over 2-3 centuries as family heritage & dependable crop. However, pictures are changing year on year, month by month.
One need to watch what exactly the pain point of the farmers are, as we go more deeper into their livelihood. Average farmer who own these lands are aged 40+ since their kids are either at study / job at distant city. Labour community too has made similar settlements, where aged men woman stays at village, whereas younger are either at study or joined jobs. Even a non educated migrate to city due to possibility of fining a handymen / helper job. This in return created a huge gap of skilled labours. Given the tree is around 60+ feet high and fruits has to be serviced by climbing each tree in rains to Put fungicides and to pluck when it ripe.
“My village is an old age home, all of us are above 50 years, so who works in field is the million rupee question. Over few decades there are so many Areca marketing firms, but none in the R&D or implementation of some smart technologies, that made us still do all the same old tricks and stuff same way its been done. – Mr. M.P.Bhat, retired chairmen of a farmer co-operative”
So, when the bandwagon went on to market the arecanuts and its by products, R&D or search of a smarter / innovative technologies were very little. Few firms had set up R&D divisions, but outcome of their research into any technology breakthrough was none. Hence, entire community who cultivated this crop over 3 centuries remained remote, unadvanced, closed to outer world on innovations and technology. There were many brave hearts who made courageous attempts to invent Areca skin peeling machines, tree climbing tools to make it to mass usage / adoption. However very few met with little or no success at all.
Sulphuric acid or Bordeaux mixture is what used as fungicide to these crops when rains are about to hit in June each year. Spraying depends on what quantities of rains / moisture / mixed weather faced by crop. Fungus hit trees going to loose all tender nuts which eventually not grown and falls off, which results in huge losses to farmers. Another note is, there are large number of small scale farmers with less than 1 acre land, where each KG of arecanut is also important livelihood for them. One cannot dare to service the farm himself, due to the slippery trees, its hight of around 60+ feet and lashing rains make things worst. There are very thin skilled labour left who can climb risking their lives, each year a district looses at least a labour falling from a tree during crop servicing.
In 2015 – 2016 when TRITHI Robotics team started to reach out to Areca farmers communities to see how our drones can help them do their job effectively & safely, lot of the farmers were welcoming the idea but worrying over the expensive option of buying drones & learn to use them. Since we aim to provide service at affordable rates, rather than farmers investing heavy on machines & technology. Since our Indian operations are gearing up last quarter of 2017, we hope these farmers will see the light at the end of the tunnel they have been through.