Editor's note: This article is the third in a three-part series on the condition of farmers in Maharashtra after the state announced its Rs 34,000-crore loan waiver.
Beed: Even as farmers' strike in Maharashtra succeeded in forcing the hand of the government into announcing an unprecedented debt relief, the rain gods have given them no respite.
Heavy rainfall began lashing the Marathwada region only on 20 August. Till then, the lack of moisture in the soil had already singed seeds of those who had taken up sowing, in accordance with the forecast of normal monsoon. Bhimrao Mhaske, 70, from Palavan village in Beed district, said he has spent about Rs 1.5 lakh on sowing. He rued that with the current rain scenario, it seemed he was going to lose all that money.
As he already owed Rs 3.5 lakh to IDBI Bank and Hyderabad Bank, he had to borrow money from a private lender this year to sow moong, urad, bajra and cotton on the 32 acres of land he owns. However, the rains came a bit too late and, effectively, rained on his parade.
"It's raining now but it will not save our crops. You cannot make an 80-year-old healthy by feeding him ghee and dry fruits," said Babasaheb Daund, 55, another farmer from Palvan.
He said the over-delayed rains are of no help to them, except that at least now, they have water for their cattle.
Owing to inconsistent rainfall, many farmers have lost their kharif crop (crop cultivated during the monsoon season). While some are hoping the rains will let 30-40 percent of the crop survive, some have abandoned all hope and begun clearing their field for the next crop cycle.
According to Sunil Kendrekar, commissioner of agriculture, Maharashtra, 47.78 lakh hectares of land was under cultivation in the Marathwada region on 19 June. He said deficit rainfall has resulted in stunted growth of pulses like tur, moong and urad. He said a report from Osmanabad district stated half of the kharif crop was lost and assessment in other districts was under way.
Agriculturist Satish Karande said farmers in Marathwada depend mainly on the crop grown during the monsoon. With cotton, soybean and tur crops succumbing to the dry spell, he said even a good harvest in the next crop cycle will fail to cancel out their losses.
Explaining the magnitude of money farmers have lost this monsoon season, executive president of Shetkari Sanghatana (farmers' organisation) Kalidas Apet said that this year, they had opted for double sowing. "If tropical calamities continue to hit farmers, the migration towards cities will increase," he said.
On the bright side, Padmakar Solunke, secretary of Ambad Agricultural Produce Market Committee, Jalna district, said he was hopeful that any crop which grows would fetch more than the Minimum Support Price (MSP). Joint director of agriculture, Beed, Ramesh Bhatane, said that usually, long-duration crops such as tur, cotton and soybean are grown in Beed. He said that the delayed monsoon will help this crop sustain, although he expected the yield to be affected by 40-45 percent.
These delayed rains offer no such saving grace to the farmers of Jalna district. Sudarshan Gotekar, 40, lamented losing the entire sum of Rs 1.5 lakh he spent on sowing. This year, he sowed soybean, moong, urad and cotton after he and his wife availed of Rs 75,000 each from the bank after restructuring their previous loan. He said the plants should have grown by a couple of feet by now, but they have barely sprouted. A few days ago, he cleared his land with a tractor, preparing it for the next crop cycle. He was one of those who had taken up double sowing.
He said until it started raining about a week ago, he did not have enough water for his bulls to drink. "I feel as if the clouds are pouring gold and not water," he said gratefully.
Sahebrao Uttekar, a farmer from Hivardi village in Jalna district, said their lot lives on hope and now they are looking forward to the next crop cycle for a good harvest.
Rainfall in Maharashtra this year
In June this year, Aurangabad division received 117.6 mm rainfall, which is 17 percent more than the average rainfall. In July, it received only 36.7 percent of the average rainfall. By 26 August, the division had received 80.5 percent of its average rainfall. In some parts of this division, water tankers were pressed into service during the dry spell. Rains that started in the third week of August have made water available in the region.
The rainfall has improved the water availability in Marathwada and Vidarbha as well. Latur, which was in such dire straits last year that the government had to transport water in tankers via train, is in a better position than last year. Till August-end, it received 114.4% of the average rainfall.
In case of Nagpur division, the rainfall in June was 63.3 percent of its average rainfall. It declined to 53.4 percent in July. By 26 August, Nagpur division had received 61.5 percent of average rainfall. In Amaravati division, monsoon began well with 89.6 percent of the average rainfall in June. However, it decreased to 56.4 percent of the average in July and further fell to 47.4 percent in August. The total rainfall till date in Amravati division is 62.4 percent of average rainfall. Konkan has reported the highest precipitation, 95.5 percent of the average rainfall, in the state. In June, it received 119.4 percent, in July 94.1 percent and 73.3 percent in August.
In Pune, June witnessed 101.1 percent of the average rainfall whereas July recorded 80.7 percent. August saw only 44.6 percent of the average rainfall. The total rainfall in the division is 76 percent of the normal average.
The patchy rains have caused crop loss in Ahmednagar district's Puntamba village, where the farmers' strike was conceived before it spread like wildfire too. Dr Dhananjay Dhanwate, one of the organisers of the protest, said he and some farmers are working to launch another protest as their main demands like unconditional waiver of all farm loans and an increase in the MSP were not fulfilled. He said farmers are not happy with the current loan waiver as it hasn't helped many of them.
Daund, the farmer from Palvan in Beed district, expressed this disappointment through his words as well as his emotions when his eyes welled up and he blamed the government for showing them false hope. With anger, he asked: "You can give us money, but what about water?"
(Bhakti Tambe is a Pune-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters. The author tweets @TambeBhakti.)
Updated Date: Aug 31, 2017 09:00 AM