Arid Marathwada stares at another season of failed crops

Near-total absence of rains since June-end is another blow to farmers already crippled by back-to-back drought and this year’s hailstorms.

Written by Kavitha Iyer | Mumbai | Published: July 18, 2015 4:48 am
Marathwada, failed crops, indian farmer, farmers, maharashtra govt, monsoon, Agriculture department, umbai news, india news, nation news, national news, Indian Express Cattle are turning out to be an unsustainable cost in a no-yield farm season. (Express Photo)

A dry spell of almost three weeks in the arid Marathwada region is threatening another round of failed crops, with farmers and government
officials both admitting that if the monsoon does not revive in the next couple of days, the mid-June sowing would have been almost
entirely futile in these totally unirrigated districts.

Agriculture department officials from across the state met in Mumbai Thursday to take stock of the worsening crisis. Initial estimates
suggested that at least 22 lakh hectares would have to be re-sown across the state — if the rain revives in the next two or three days. The
area likely to witness re-sowing is expected to go up. Officials said showers in other parts of the state on Thursday had raised hopes that
the damage could be mitigated still.

In Marathwada, however, the near-total absence of rains since the last week of June is another blow for farmers in a region already
crippled by back-to-back drought and this year’s hailstorms.

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For the week ending July 8, Marathwada received 123.7 mm rain, 34 per cent less than the average. By July 16, the total rainfall crawled
up to 125.4 mm, now 45 per cent less than normal. (In comparison, Konkan has received 29 pc less than normal, Vidarbha 13 pc less than
normal rains.)

“No, I’m just looking at the rabi season now,” says Nathrao Karad, 36, who planted soyabean, tur and cotton on 45 acres in Parbhani,
when asked if he is readying for a fresh sowing. There is no cash for a second sowing, and since he already took seeds on credit, he cannot
do so again. His family’s gold is mortgaged and he has requested his children’s school in Parli, Beed district, for some more time to pay
fees for this academic year. “Even for those who will somehow raise cash for a second sowing, what are the options? Even the short
duration soyabean takes 85 days, farmers who sow now would be damaging their rabi chances as well. Even soyabean should ideally be
sown before July 10,” he says.

Bagruwan Kanse of Suradi-Sonsanghavi village in Kaij, Beed district, says a quick tur crop may be possible if it rains, but only for those
who already have or can still afford the seeds. “I sowed soyabean on 12 acres on June 17, and it has been nearly 20 days of dry weather
since,” says Kanse, who is also set to wait for the rabi season now. In addition, he will have to watch his 3.5 acres of sugarcane wither
slowly. “They are about 5 feet tall now, and would be harvested later this year. Without any water, I’ll have to cut most of it down to use
as fodder, the rest will have to be thrown away.”

It’s a sharp math on fodder: A medium-sized bullock will eat fodder worth Rs 200 per day, not to mention it will need about 20 litres of
water a day. Karad says his well yields about 25 litres a day, making his animals, traditionally called pashudhan, an unsustainable cost in a
no-yield farm season.

Others say about 35 per cent of Marathwada’s farmers, facing their worst ever cash crunch, sowed without fertiliser. And this was on the
back of a forgettable rabi season — only 2,839 villages in Marathwada undertake a rabi crop, and sowing was 40 per cent below normal.

Farmers with larger tracts of land with heavy black soil expect to wait another two to three days before declaring it a wasted crop, while
those with light soil have given up on the season already.

Needless to say, even farmers who supported the Bharatiya Janata Party are now backing the Congress-NCP’s demand for a total farm
loan waiver. “Only if the old loans are written off can we get fresh loans. And unless we are able to raise some money, there is no way for
us to return to the farm this year,” says Karad.

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