With 15 acres of watermelon ready for harvest, Appasaheb Tikhe of Suradi-Sonsanghavi village in Beed’s Kaij taluka was all smiles until last week, expecting to reap a handsome profit. But heavy rain and hail on Sunday afternoon in the heart of drought-hit Marathwada plunged Tikhe’s family into grief. Tikhe had completed the harvest on only two acres and the hail caused most of the remaining fruit to split open.
As it continued to rain in Kaij on Monday, Tikhe’s neighbour Bagruwan Kanse said the area’s farmers, who have been cultivating watermelon since 1993, have been left in debt and penury. Watermelon is expensive to plant, with input costs reaching Rs 70,000 an acre. But it fetches three times that sum in a good harvest. “Never before have we faced such huge losses,” said Kanse. “Those who had taken their crop to the market last week were lucky — everything else is destroyed. Tempos couldn’t even go to the farms in the heavy rain.”
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In yet another bout of unexplained weather conditions, rain and hailstorms over the past two days across rural Maharashtra have left the farm sector dreading a bitter summer ahead. Maharashtra government officials pointed out that the state is spending about Rs 10,000 crore on a slew of schemes for the crisis-ridden farm sector — Rs 4,200 crore on a drought relief package, a Rs 2,000-crore sugar sector subsidy, loan waivers and a power subsidy — but the unseasonal rains have exacerbated conditions for already distressed farmers.
In Vidarbha, leftover wheat was affected while in the Western Maharashtra districts of Sangli and Nashik, vineyards and orchards were damaged.
Beed and Latur districts saw about 140 mm of rain over two days, leaving jowar and bajra crop completely destroyed.
In Jalna and Aurangabad, farmers said 90 per cent of the region’s popular kesar mango crop, to be harvested next fortnight, was destroyed.
“Kesar is harvested slightly later than other mango varieties —this proved to be our undoing,” said Deepak Deshpande, a farmer from Kaij and a local journalist. Pomegranate, an increasingly popular choice among horticulturists in Marathwada, also suffered extensive damage. In Beed district, worst affected were the banana plantations and watermelon fields, both set for harvest this week.
Suradi-Sonsanghavi villagers call themselves experts in growing watermelons of all varieties. Traders who annually ferry Suradi-Sonsanghavi’s watermelon straight to the Vashi APMC market in Mumbai’s suburbs will this year not pick up the crop, which fetched local farmers Rs 2 per kg on Tuesday, down from Rs 10-14 per kg last week. An estimated 375 acres of watermelon crop was destroyed in this one village alone.
Banana plantations in Nashik and Jalgaon reported heavy losses as well.
Most farmers reported three short but powerful bursts of hail in a gap of four hours on Sunday, followed by continuous heavy rain on Monday. Small rivulets in Phulambri (Aurangabad) and check dams built recently along the Aurangabad-Jalna highway filled up by Monday evening.
Officials from the Agriculture Department said the majority of crops on the field were ready for harvest. Around 30-40 per cent of onion on the fields in north Maharashtra was also damaged. “Most of the onion was harvested but some of it was kept on the field due to lack of storage space which was destroyed in rain,” said an officer.
Dr Nabanshu Chattopadhyay, deputy director general (agro meteorology), said the present spell of unseasonal rains was also accompanied by high wind, squall and hail. “States of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Telangana have seen the maximum damage. Reports have talked of damage to crops which are either at harvesting or flowering state,” he said.
The standing crops of wheat, arhar and gram in east UP also sustained serious damage, with around 60 per cent of the crop being wasted. Wheat crop and vegetables in Bihar and Jharkhand were also wasted in unseasonal rains.
Districts of Warangal, Karimanagar, Mahabubnagar, Rangareddy, Adilabad and Nizamabad of Telanaga had reported damage to rice, banana and sesame crops.