Marathwada's drought: How climate change has destroyed agriculture and ruined farmers - Firstpost
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Marathwada's drought: How climate change has destroyed agriculture and ruined farmers

A series on Marathwada’s battle with three consecutive years of drought is incomplete without understanding the impact of climate change. The rise in the country’s annual temperature by 0.7 °C and erratic climatic patterns are sure to affect the region’s agriculture which is primarily rainfed with 12 per cent area under irrigation.

A farmer clearing the crop destroyed by the hailstorm at Borsar Village Taluka Vijapur in Marathwada. Representational image. Getty Images.

A farmer clearing the crop destroyed by hailstorm in Marathwada. Representational image. Getty Images.

Firstpost spoke to farmers in Nanded and Parbhani districts and almost all have either blamed unseasonal rains or dry spells for their failed produce. These are, however, only two of the several causes of crop failure. The repercussions of climate change have set off a domino effect.

Rise in the number of farmer suicides, inability of a farmer to repay bank loans; no availability of water in dams; no fodder for cattle; no capital to start allied businesses; suffering poultry; unemployment and migrations – are some of the grave issues faced by the farmers in the region.

Babu Patil, a marginal farmer from Nanded’s Babulgaon village, has a 750-feet borewell that dried up this February. In his four-acre land, Patil had sown jowar in two and cotton in the rest. Jowar fell prey to unseasonal rains and cotton to water scarcity and pests. With no water, soaring summer temperature is only adding to his misery.

“Now, there is nothing I can do except wait for the monsoon now. Last year, the cotton that I had sown got damaged because there was not enough water for irrigation. My borewell has gone dry. The temperature during the day stops us from entering the fields and then pests ruin our standing crops too. I am running out of money to buy fodder and water for my cattle and have a loan of Rs 5 lakh to repay. I am just looking at ways to save my sanity,” said a distraught 49-year-old Patil.

Impact of climate change on Marathwada

Agricultural scientists observe that for the past two years, extreme weather events like hailstorms, heat wave, frost, unseasonal and erratic rains have played havoc with agriculture in Maharashtra.

According to B Venkateswarulu, vice-chancellor of Vasantrao Naik Marathwada Krishi Vidyapeeth (VNMKV) in Parbhani, “Hailstorms, which are common in March, generally occur in isolated places for a couple of days. However, in the last two years, hailstorms have occurred in several parts of the state, on larger areas and for longer duration. Such impacts are likely to compound the problems of the agriculture sector, which is already struggling with severe water crisis.”

Though there has been consistency in total rainfall in the country, the distribution and the area covered have become erratic, thereby adversely affecting farmer’s produce, he said. For example: Kharif crops– rice, maize, jowar, bajra, cereals, pulses, soyabean, groundnut, cotton – known as monsoon crops, are affected a lot by fluctuations in rainfall, while Rabi crops – wheat, barley, oats, chickpea/gram, linseed, mustard – known as winter crops, are impacted more by changes in temperature.

According to agricultural scientists, the heat wave that India witnessed in 2013 had reduced four million tonnes of wheat production. Rise in one degree temperature during the flowering stage in that year caused a huge loss to the farmers in Marathwada. In fact, the severe drought has been compared to the devastating one which occurred in 1972. The following chart shows the trajectory of the rainfall pattern Marathwada witnessed since 1972.

Horticulture is another area that has been badly affected. A report by India Spend illustrates how pomegranate-farming, which accounts for 80 per cent of the state’s agricultural production, took a hit this year because of sudden spells of unseasonal rains and hailstorms in districts like Solapur, Nashik, Sangli, Satara, Pune and Ahmednagar, also known as the pomegranate belt.

The sudden rise in temperature has also increased the population of pests which thrive and breed in warmer climatic conditions, ultimately ruining the standing produce.

Shailesh Vaidya had cultivated cotton on three of his seven-acre land. White flies completely destroyed the produce. He is slightly better off than most of the other farmers in Nanded and also runs a general store in the main city. “Although, I had no water issues as my 300-feet borewell was sufficiently supplying water to the field, my cotton crop was completely ruined,” he said.

Moreover, allied sectors like livestock, poultry and dairy,which usually bring some revenue to the farmer, in case of crop failure, are in a sorry state. In districts like Parbhani and Nanded, there are either few or no cattle camps. Small farmers, who can’t afford to buy fodder and water for their cattle, either sell them or abandon them if the cattle doesn’t fetch them adequate price.

Professor Gokul Gholap, head of Dairy Science of Dnyandevo Mohekar College in Kalamb taluka of Osmanabad district, also a well-to-do farmer, said: “There has been no fodder for cattle for over a year now. Hailstorms and unseasonal showers are to be blamed as they ruin the generation of green or dry fodder. There is no drinking water for humans, how will we provide water for our cattle? Also, with inadequate camps to supply water and fodder, cattle perish due to the rise in temperature and misery caused by drought.”

Keshavrao Vyavhare of Loha taluka in Nanded district is one such dairy farmer who shut his shop in despair. “Unseasonal showers in November damaged my crops. How can you expect to feed your cattle if there is no water available? We have to buy drinking water. Temperature is soaring; rivers and borewells are running dry; cattle are dying.There is hardly any assistance from the government at the grassroots. And it takes years to avail benefits of state-run schemes. Is there any other option left than giving up business?” asked the disgruntled 58-year-old farmer.

Head of VNMKV’s meteorology department, Professor Pralhad Jaybhaye, attributes these instances to conditional instability. According to him, such instabilities are commonly observed every year, but the state should be equipped to handle them by installing adequate automated weather stations, especially in agricultural universities. “There should be enough automated weather stations and a committee should be set up to help determine and monitor the loss caused by the hailstorms. In this way, we will be able to predict such calamities so that the farmer can be alerted well in advance to save his produce,” he said.

What is the state government doing?

Past measures reveals that a Climate Action Programme, launched in May 2014 with a budget allocation of Rs 290 crore, includes National Action Plan on Climate Change proposed by the then government in 2008 and state action plans in order to focus on the impacts of the climate change in drought-prone areas of the nation.

Capacity building and setting up of Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Climate Change Studies, with an outlay of Rs 25 crore, was also proposed with an objective to support scientific and analytical studies relating to climate change policy and implementing strategies.

Elaborating on the climate action plan, Malini Shankar, principal secretary of environment department of Maharashtra Pollution Control Board, said: “Three parameters have been taken into consideration while preparing the action plan – weather conditions which include intensity and quantum of rainfall, increase in temperature; economic factors and resources available in the districts and lastly social parameters, including education, unemployment and households below poverty line.”

The parameters have been set keeping in mind how dependent rural areas are on agriculture as opposed to the cities, which can survive the climatic shifts given the allied businesses backing the economy of the cities, she said.

Shankar added that the department will look at creating special cells and set aside budget for climate change with adequate focus on the use of solar energy. The action plan is awaiting Cabinet’s nod.

“The phenomenon is mostly a consequence of man-made actions. Policies focusing on water-use pattern should be implemented. Measures implemented to reverse the negative impacts of climate change, however, will not yield results overnight,” she said.

Tracking extreme weather

Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR), a non-profit organization which has worked on independent watershed projects in Marathwada for the past 23 years, has recently developed a weather-based system called AgroMet. It’s a climate change adaptation project which aims at providing a forecast three days in advance, with the help of India Meteorological Department (IMD), to the farmers on erratic rainfall and climatic patterns so that they can save their produce. They also issue advisories on how to protect crops and what irrigation procedures should be followed.

The advisory SMSs sent to the farmers twice a week. WOTR

The advisory SMSs sent to the farmers twice a week. WOTR

Harish Daware, Marathwada’s regional WOTR coordinator, believes that the rainfall has been consistent, but there are drastic variations in the climatic pattern of the region over the past three years. “Though the intensity of the normal and unseasonal rainfall has increased, the number of rainy days has slumped. Higher intensity destroys the fertility of the soil and also reduces the possibility of groundwater recharge due to heavy run-off. Prolonged dry spells too are responsible for the huge amount of crop loss a farmer bears,” Daware said.

According to WOTR, which has 78 automated weather stations across Jalna and Maharashtra, farmers across Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh suffered around Rs 8,300 crore worth of loss owing to weather changes in 2013, the year when the crops were baked due to the heatwave.

“Secondly, fluctuation in temperature is a problem too. It gives rise to evaporation losses. These things used to happen once in every 15 years, but this has now become an annual affair. If farmers are informed beforehand, it could help them tremendously. We are now looking forward to striking a deal with the state government and agricultural universities which will help in forwarding the cause,” Daware added.

Effective solution to any problem is often simple, yet hardly implemented. Suggesting an age-old solution to tackle climate change, Vasant Futane, a 65-year-old organic farmer from Amravati, said, “One simple and affordable solution to this crisis is to plant more trees, especially drought-tolerant trees, which help in reducing the soaring temperature. If trees are planted in greater volumes, we will be able to sustain ourselves in the face of recurring drought.”


According to experts, if measures like watershed management, changing cropping pattern, focus on agro-forestry, tree-farming and allied sectors like poultry and dairy are diligently followed on a larger scale, it will surely help in reversing the negative impacts of climate change, they suggest. It might take years, but it’s not an impossible feat.

This is the twelfth segment of a 13-part series on Marathwada’s drought.

Part 13: Maharashtra’s sugarcane addiction has a history which precedes the drought in Marathwada.

Read the previous parts of the series here:

Part 1: Region is parched, impoverished and desperate, but it's a crisis of its own making
Part 2: In the midst of severe economic downturn, private water sellers reap profits in Latur
Part 3: Drought has brought the economy down and is forcing farmers to leave the region
Part 4: Water scarcity has created a region where trust has eroded and left the social fabric frayed
Part 5: Maha has the most dams in the country, but the least effective irrigation network
Part 6: A surveyor of suicides tells the story behind the statistics and the lonely struggle of Indian farmers
Part 7: Will outreach help reduce farmer suicides?
Part 8: 'Toothless' laws lead to water exploitation
Part 9: Shirpur, Jal Biradari projects show impact of small local initiatives
Part 10: Why debt-ridden farmers are deemed least creditworthy
Part 11: Crop insurance for farmers not adequate to cover cultivation costs

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