Maharashtra state looks ‘beyond sugar’ in drought-hit districts

In the 12,000 villages reeling under water crisis, state wants to promote 8-month crops in place of sugarcane.

Written by Shubhangi Khapre | Mumbai | Published:September 17, 2015 2:34 am

The state government has taken the decision to promote cultivation of eight-month crops in drought-hit districts of Marathwada and parts of west Maharashtra, instead of the 12 to 14-month sugarcane cultivation which is highly water intensive. The reforms in the agriculture policy will be enforced from next season.

In some districts, a movement called ‘Beyond Sugarcane’ has already been launched and yielded some positive results. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said, “We are not against any crop. But we will have to adopt a pragmatic approach to ensure better management of water and higher agriculture dividends to help farmers and make them self-reliant.”

Two major districts, where the movement has been launched, have submitted their reports to the state government.

A sub-committee which includes agriculture minister Eknath Khadse, finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar and cooperation and marketing minister Chandrakant Patil is in favour of an alternative to sugarcane cultivation in areas which are perennially drought-prone.

In the district of Osmanabad where the average rainfall is less than 450 mm, the ‘Beyond Sugarcane’ movement has taken roots with farmers who have formed small groups to experiment new crops. They have switched over to horticulture and floriculture. The farmers are taking up soya bean, tur and jowari cultivation in place of sugarcane.

According to Osmanabad district collector Prashant Narnawre, “The sugarcane cultivation in our district has come down from 48,000 hectares to 23,000 hectares in just six months.” With administrative support, the farmers are willing to adopt new models of crop cultivation.

The polyhouses which dot the drought regions are used for climate-controlled horticulture and floriculture that is less water intensive and gives better financial results. Narnawre said, “We are asking farmers to take up maize which has a big market. They are growing fruits and flowers and getting direct cash payment.”

In the district of Solapur in western Maharashtra, farmers are still not forthcoming in giving up sugarcane cultivation. But the campaign to look beyond sugarcane is catching up among the small and marginal farmers.

As district collector Tukaram Mundhe said, “It is a myth that sugarcane brings more financial returns compared to other crops. On the contrary, farmers who have switched to other crops have earned up to Rs 1 lakh per hectare on horticulture, compared to Rs 50,000 per hectares for sugarcane.”

In Solapur, farmers have reaped a better harvest by growing pomegranate. The export of grade-one quality pomegranate has earned farmers huge profit, up to Rs 50 to 250 crore, Mundhe said.

Crop diversification has become inevitable in drought-prone regions. Sugarcane, which requires 12 to 14 months, consumes approximately 2068 litres of water. However, pomegranate or soyabeans requires about one-eighth of water per hectare and produces higher yields.

Sericulture and goat farming have already taken roots  in Osmanabad and Solapur  districts.

In Latur, Parbhani and Jalna the administration wants to promote tur dal cultivation and sunflower fields.

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