Marathwada: India’s emerging farmer suicide capital

As many parts of the country reel under a back-to-back drought, Kavitha Iyer reports from the region that’s at the centre of the crisis.

Written by Kavitha Iyer | Updated: September 13, 2015 11:29 pm
Marathwada, Marathwada drought, drought in Marathwada, drought effect, Marathwada farmer, drought, migration, migration due to drought, mumbai news, city news, farmers crop loss, farmers crop destruction, maharashtra farmers loss, maharashtra farmers suicide, maharashtra news, india news, nation news, national news, Indian Express In all, at least 70 per cent of all farmland in Marathwada would register a failed kharif crop this year, reckon state government officials. (Illustration: C R Sasikumar)

Weeks before hanging himself from a tree on his farm on June 1 this year, Kalyan Khomne, 55, read out a newspaper report to his son Shahdev. “It was about a farmer’s suicide in our taluka,” says 26-year-old Shahdev.

His village, Nandurghat, and the nearby hamlets in Beed district’s Kaij taluka, have seen six farmer suicides in recent months. It tells the story of a state staring at its third drought in four years, the epicentre being the eight districts in the Marathwada region, which has so far reported the country’s highest rainfall deficit in the current monsoon season (June-September), at 52 per cent.

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Khomne died without witnessing this year’s kharif sowings, but left behind loans of over Rs 3 lakh. Shahdev spent most of the state’s relief cheque on sowing soyabean and cotton on their two acres, an investment that proved futile: The cotton and soyabean crops across Marathwada are severely stunted due to lack of rains. There has also been damage to soyabean in some parts from pest attacks on account of high humidity.

Marathwada, Marathwada drought, drought in Marathwada, drought effect, Marathwada farmer, drought, migration, migration due to drought, mumbai news, city news, farmers crop loss, farmers crop destruction, maharashtra farmers loss, maharashtra farmers suicide, maharashtra news, india news, nation news, national news, Indian Express Shahdev Khomne (right) with his mother and brother at their home in Nandurghat, Beed. (express Photo by: Kavita Iyer)

But it is pulses that will bear the biggest blow. In Parbhani, Osmanabad, Beed and Latur districts, the moong (green gram) and urad (black gram) crops were the first to dry up. Agriculture officers say that sowing and germination was on schedule, but a 45-day dry spell from end-June till the first week of August put paid to vegetative growth. Moong, a 60 to 65-day crop, and urad have both suffered a near-complete washout.

In all, at least 70 per cent of all farmland in Marathwada would register a failed kharif crop this year, reckon state government officials. While the region usually receives an average 780 millimetres of rainfall through the monsoon season, cumulative precipitation until now has been 258.9 mm.

“Sowing was excellent, thanks to the promising rains in June,” says Murlidhar Godke, 65, who farms five acres near Georai in Beed. Data from the state’s agriculture department bears this out. Except for Osmanabad (60 per cent) and Parbhani (83 per cent), the Marathwada region has seen around 95 per cent normal sowing— over 41 lakh hectares, including 5,00,000 hectares each under cotton and soyabean.

Godke himself has diversified into less water-intensive horticulture crops since 2003 and, in more recent years, sericulture. “But even mulberry shrubs need water, though less than cotton. Right now, we’re struggling with the costs of getting even that bare minimum water through tankers,” notes Godke, who, along with 400-odd others farmers in Beed, is set to form the district’s first-ever sericulture cooperative.

Those plans are in tatters now, as their crops wither and cash dries up on the back of consecutive droughts, apart from unseasonal rains and hailstorms. Yet, land-owners here have no choice but to scrape the bottom of the barrel for sustaining agricultural operations. Farmers in Aurangabad or Jalna owning land along the highways may be waiting to sell, hoping for a good price as government agencies, private investors and land sharks come calling in the name of the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor.

But for the vast majority of Marathwada’s farmers, there is no alternative to cultivating their land for the next three decades or more. Any mention of the government or its plans for Marathwada leaves Godke seething: “All it cares about is keeping the prices of onions and pulses low. Everybody is against the farmer getting a decent price”.

Godke cites his own rising input costs: If papayas fetched Rs 5-6 a kilo in 2003, he gets maybe Rs 7-8 a kilo today. “But labour costs were Rs 15 per person per day in 2003, now it is Rs 150. Fertiliser was Rs 800 a quintal then, now Rs 2,500. And water was always free, now we pay for tankers,” he notes, adding “but when onion prices rise, the government rushes to import, ensuring we don’t get a good price when the new crop comes to the market in October”.

Factoring water as a major input cost is part of Marathwada’s farm-math today. About 20 km outside Ambejogai in Beed, Maruti Shendge and his son Sachin shifted from cotton and soyabean to vegetable cultivation on their land in Adasgaon. A Rs 4 lakh bank loan for a shade-net and drip irrigation system followed, but as the water in their well dried up, an unexpected cost made its way into their calculations— Rs 1,400 for every tanker of water. For their six acres under tomatoes and capsicum, the water requirement in the initial months is about 3,000 litres daily, rising to 25,000 litres at the peak growth stage. “In a normal year, we spend Rs 25,000-30,000 on various costs including water, while earnings are Rs 40,000. This year, earnings will dip to Rs 15,000,” informs Sachin.

Barring Parbhani and Aurangabad, which are served by a thin network of canals, irrigation coverage in much of Marathwada is below 20 per cent. In Beed, only 16 per cent of cropped land is irrigated, while 18 per cent in Jalna, 13 per cent in Nanded and 16 per cent in Osmanabad. The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests approved the

Rs 4,845-crore Krishna-Marathwada irrigation project this June. But given the state’s track record on project implementation, any improvement in the region’s irrigation percentages may take years.

Even crop advisories from state agencies and agricultural varsities to tackle extreme weather events appear to have only limited impact. At Ambejogai’s Krishi Vigyan Kendra, senior scientist and soil technology specialist CM Tripathi claims about 25,000 farmers in Beed to be registered with the centre for receiving SMS and voice-message advisories, apart from 400 on WhatsApp. “Yet, in spite of our advisories, there are farmers sowing cotton or soyabean at this stage, encouraged by the mild showers in August,” he says.

Does the current situation owe itself to farmers moving away from subsistence crops such as jowar (sorghum) to soyabean and cotton? B Venkateswarlu, vice-chancellor of the Marathwada Agricultural University at Parbhani, believes it is unfair to blame farmers for the changed cropping patterns, as they only respond to market signals and there is also falling demand for jowar. Besides, while jowar can withstand dry spells, 40-45 days of no rains would wither any crop, including sorghum. “This isn’t a normal year or even a sub-normal year. It is a bad year,” he points out.

His university is advising farmers to go in for an early rabi season, and sowing of safflower on fallow lands. Venkateswarlu also expects acreage under rabi jowar to increase — assuming there are rains in September.

Overall, this has been a catastrophic year for Marathwada, sparing not even crops having some irrigation cover.

By modest estimates, about 30 per cent of the region’s horticulture crop would be lost from this year’s drought. The damage is not less to the 2,30,000 hectares under sugarcane, a significant part of which is irrigated — this time using costly water from tankers. The Maharashtra government is now contemplating disallowing mills in Marathwada to even start crushing operations from next month— since that itself requires water.

In 2014-15, the state spent Rs 4,336 crore on financial assistance for Marathwada’s farmers. That bill could balloon further this year.

More incalculable is the human loss and damage to farmer morale. If 2014 recorded 574 farmer suicides in the region, the tally for 2015 has already touched 628.

As Shahdev says of his father, “They don’t tell their families anything. They just go.” Leaving behind, of course, another year of drought, another destroyed crop, more failed investments and ever larger loans.

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  1. F
    fekucatchr
    Sep 3, 2015 at 10:52 am
    No one is bothered, all are busy in Acche din.
    Reply
  2. S
    SJ
    Sep 7, 2015 at 2:50 pm
    In the post independence days, also Marathwada faced draught spells , but the local influential people , common people survived the families by feeding the possible potion by Anna chatra. And thus our society was very healthy. Now the bad weather, wrong selection of crop is ociated with more demanding life style, marriage of daughter, dowry, failure of irrigation department. The Govt. is trying at their level. The banks also can not survive if letting every season without collecting back lending money. The w economy will be in danger, that is not affordable. It is not justifiable to suicide ,leaving everyone in his house estranged. Nana Patekar, Maka Anaspure (actors) are helping to support the families of farmers.We, the people can also make our duty to support each other as a civilized society.
    Reply
  3. A
    anandap
    Sep 3, 2015 at 8:09 am
    Due to deficiency of seasonal rains and lack of modern irrigation facilitates, more and more Marathwadas are going emerge in our farming sectors. This is one of the major reasons for farmer's suicide.
    Reply
  4. K
    krishna kumar
    Sep 3, 2015 at 12:19 pm
    The draught is a recurring feature in the area and this results in crop failure. Farmers suicide is primarily due to either crop to failure or not getting remunerative for their produce. Maharashtra govt must dig very deep( 400 - 500 ft) tube well and let farmers use them for irrigating their fields, of course on payment. Remunerative price for crops is an all India problem and central govt must act forthwith on this. ALso states must tighten their Mandis establishment and purchase of crop below MSP must be a cognizable offence. Today entire Mandi set up works for the welfare of traders.
    Reply
  5. R
    Ram
    Sep 3, 2015 at 11:37 am
    Where Anna ??? who are believed to be Mashiha. Anna, Bedi, Kejari plan was only against Congress, now what is happening ? Now Govt. is busy in Bihar election, like in delhi.
    Reply
  6. S
    SMF foundation
    Nov 20, 2015 at 11:06 am
    A noble mission with a vision develops in Shri Shantilal Muttha’s mind to support the families of farmers who committed suicide in Marathwada. The mission is to bring the children of farmers who committed suicide to Wagholi Educational Rehabilitation Centre (WERC) and give them education free of cost from 5th to 12th standard
    Reply
  7. N
    Nagar Iyer
    Sep 28, 2015 at 9:40 pm
    The only way to reverse the DEVASTATION in Indian agriculture & make the farmers prosper is to follow the guidelines given below: (1. Completely ban Chemical farming using Urea, DAP, Superphosphate, endosulfan & other poisons & GM ) (2. Strictly implement ban on DESI COW BULL slaughter) (3. Make ZERO BUDGET NATURAL FARMING using DESI COW DUNG & mandatory ). Within 5 years Maharashtra will grow food adequate for the entire India.
    Reply
  8. N
    Nagar
    Sep 3, 2015 at 6:02 am
    Return to our age old NATURAL VEDIC FARMING using cow dung & . - Totally ban CHEMICAL fertilizers & pesticides. - Introduce a TOTAL BAN on cow-slaughter & implement it with stringently - All these talk of COMPENSATION, aid to farming & agriculture is just nonsense.
    Reply
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