Why Maharashtra is under stress

It needs to restructure its agriculture, develop sustainable cropping patterns.

Written by Ashok Gulati | Published:September 14, 2015 12:02 am
farmer suicides, maharashtra farmer suicides, maharashtra farmers scheme, maharashtra farmers fish scheme, Vidarbha farmers, vidarbha farmers fish business, farmers fish business, Mumbai news, latest news, indian express, nation news Maharashtra has been the epicentre of farmer suicides. More than 600 farmers have committed suicide.

Laxman Singh Rathore and his entire team in the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) need to be complimented for giving us sufficient warning, well in advance, about the likelihood of yet another year of deficit rainfall. Although it was not good news, the messenger kept its honesty and boldness in speaking the bitter truth. On April 22, in its initial forecasts of 2015 monsoon rains, the rains were forecast to be 93 per cent of the long period average (LPA, 1951-2000), which was revised to 88 per cent of LPA on June 2. In later press interviews, Rathore indicated that the final tally may be even lower.

Forecasting these figures has been even more daunting and challenging for the IMD since a private forecaster, Skymet, consistently came up with its predictions of normal rainfall (102 per cent of LPA earlier, and then revising to 98 per cent later). In reality, as on September 10, the rain deficit stood at 15 per cent below the LPA with little chance of a turnaround now. This should lead Skymet to introspect about its forecasts and how its optimistic forecast had made many policymakers complacent.

The situation is most precarious currently in Maharashtra, especially in Marathwada and Madhya Maharashtra, where the deficit figures have hovered between minus 40 to minus 50 per cent during the last 10 days or so. As such, many dams have gone almost dry, or way below the desired water levels. This has created almost an emergency situation of drinking water for humans as well as animals.

Lately, Maharashtra has been the epicentre of farmer suicides. More than 600 farmers have committed suicide. Frontloading and enhancing insurance compensation as soon as the monsoon is over, by September end, would go a long way in providing some relief. Restructuring agricultural credit could be another option.

But Maharashtra has to think in terms of a medium- to long-term strategy for agriculture. The following facts about Maharashtra’s agriculture explain why it is under severe stress during every drought. Despite having the largest number of dams in the country, less than 20 per cent of the state’s cropped area is under irrigation cover. Between 1992-93 and 2011-12, Maharashtra’s cumulative capital expenditure on major and medium irrigation schemes was Rs 81,359 crore (at historical prices). At 2014-15 constant prices, this works out to be Rs 1,37,917 crore. During the same period, the potential created under these schemes was only 2.1 million hectare (ha). This results in a capital cost of almost Rs 6.6 lakh per ha — more than double Gujarat’s (Rs 2.9 lakh per ha) and almost four times that of Uttar Pradesh (Rs 1.6 lakh per ha), for the same period.

Now consider this. Roughly 5 per cent of the cropped area in the state, which is under sugarcane cultivation, takes away more than 60 per cent of irrigation water of the state. This is because sugarcane receives 100 per cent irrigation and requires 25-30 irrigations as compared to, say, cotton, of which less than 3 per cent is irrigated, or tur and soyabean, of which less than 2 per cent is irrigated. It is noteworthy that all these crops require much less irrigation (just two to five irrigations). Water means prosperity in Maharashtra’s agriculture, and the implication of this skewed distribution of water is that almost 5 per cent of farmers take away 60 per cent of potential prosperity from water, leaving the remaining peasants high and dry.

It is time to rationalise policies — especially water distribution — relating to the sugar sector, or else, in the years to come, people will suffer even greater water stress. One way to do it is to ration the water supply from public irrigation schemes, so that a larger number of farmers receive irrigation. In a market system, one could have raised the irrigation water charges to align water use. But our political masters are always wary of raising the prices of water and power, which leads to unsustainable cropping patterns.The other way is to put a minimum of 50 per cent of sugarcane cultivation under drip irrigation over the next five to seven years and release the saved water (almost 40-50 per cent) for other crops and encourage crop diversification, including those that can give enough fodder for cattle. The money for the scaled up drip irrigation can come from the Centre, state, sugar factories and sugarcane farmers.

At a national level, one has to think of land use policy and also of developing cropping patterns that are sustainable and in line with natural resource endowments, as well as globally competitive. Given that the real cost of irrigation in Maharashtra is four times higher than in UP, one has to account for this in efficiency calculations. Maybe Maharashtra is more suitable for industrial clusters than agriculture — this, therefore, could be incorporated in land use policy.

It’s time for the state to bite the bullet and restructure its agriculture to put it on a sustainable path, bringing prosperity and resilience to a larger number of farmers.

The writer is Infosys Chair Professor for Agriculture at Icrier

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  1. D
    DT
    Sep 15, 2015 at 12:32 am
    Clearly we needed more Sharad Powar in vidarbha marathwada too. Apparently writer is circling around same land aquisition idea. He is systematically missing the point that farmers need power supply for irrigation. Right now thre is omly power outage for atleast 12 hrs / day. The produce prices are below investment. Farmers are like slaves in this country
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      Arun Sharma
      Sep 14, 2015 at 11:55 am
      Raised a good issue about revising crop pattern in every state as per availability of water in tune with changing rainy season and the rain pattern and quantum. But rich farmer politicians are making policies to suit their interest.
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        Venkataraman Balayogi
        Sep 14, 2015 at 11:54 am
        1. We need scientific genome data on flora and fauna. 2. Then based on that along with study of soil conditions, usual regional climatic conditions and availability of vital resources like water utilization etc work on their economic costs & viability. 3. Implementing alternatives proposals based on these scientific basis can revolutionize both Indian agriculture and economy. �
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          Srinivasan
          Sep 14, 2015 at 6:16 am
          Shifting to Sugar Beet is also water saving. Also by product will be cattle feed
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            Shekhar sharma
            Sep 14, 2015 at 6:01 am
            Dear sir it is true government priority should be how to save poor bit they are bothering about meat ban.
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              anandap
              Sep 14, 2015 at 8:31 am
              Temperature controlled AC warehouses, procuring centers, conservation and processing centers along with AC food container style vehicles for logistical and delivery systems, are urgent in India to avoid waste and natural destruction of food grains, vegetables, fruits, fish, meat etc. Secondly mive level small, medium, and large level digging reservoirs for rain water harvesting during monsoon seasons. MGNREGA funds are to be used for this task. This will enable to counter to large extent to face drought level conditions in future.
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                Ghanshyam
                Sep 15, 2015 at 11:38 pm
                it is a fact that the industry which writer is talking about also need water and raw material. When water is scarce the suggestion of industrialization does not sounds feasible. One has to see the more basic options like conserving and creating ponds lakes and waterbodies , save rain water and recharging ground water by afforestation. it has worked in Rajasthan which is more rain deficient than Maharastra.
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                  rajendra mishra
                  Sep 14, 2015 at 8:46 pm
                  The last stanza speaks well for the possible remedies.
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                    Ramesh Grover
                    Sep 14, 2015 at 8:57 am
                    It is heartening to see that human issues and rainfall, agriculture, irrigation are that only is taking precedence over meaningless political discourse. What is written over here is sensible, and immediate action is needed to work out policies and details for immediate implementation lest human woes may cause even more human sufferings. Any sensitive society needs to consider farmers suicide, suffering of cattle for want of grazing, and drinking water issues need the highest priority in Mahrashtra, Telangana, and A.P beset with rain deficit year after year. Perhaps Maharashtra comes out the worst of the difficult areas.
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                      rkannan
                      Sep 14, 2015 at 9:58 am
                      We must not forget that Industry also needs water. Agriculture is heavily dependent on water and, all over the world, irrigation dramatically improves the situation. the real question is whether the nation can continue to afford sugarcane cultivation ? It consumes too much of water for too little of output. Brazil is the only nation where Sugarcane cultivation works but this is due to availability of abundant land & water. India needs to move towards the American model where sugar production is less but industrial sugar needs are met by Corn based sweetners.
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                        Samar Tyagi
                        Sep 14, 2015 at 12:10 pm
                        Farmers not only in Maharashtra, but other states also, are ping through most turbulent times. Even after 68 years of independence, farmers are forced to sell crops at pre-determined price. Unlike, their industrial counterparts, they do not enjoy economic freedom. Continual farmers suicide is a cause of great concern. PM Modi must call upon an urgent meeting of all stakeholders and introduce land reforms at war scale, increase public investment in irrigation schemes, club all ministries and govt. department related to agriculture. This will ensure better coordination. Let us see, if the present govt. can rise up to the expectations.
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                          Sanket Sudke
                          Sep 14, 2015 at 2:42 pm
                          The people of Maharashtra made the crime of electing the Congress & NCP for 15 years. In spite of what they did to us, still 80 MLA's still sit in the legislative embly (Actually not even a single MLA from these parties deserve to get elected). We deserve this crisis. I hope we learn a lesson from this and never ever vote those corrupt scoundrels back to power in our state.
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                          1. X
                            xyz
                            Sep 14, 2015 at 6:42 am
                            Mr. Gulati does not mention that Gujarat and UP are almost plain whereas Maharashtra is mostly hilly. He also does not mention that most of Maharashtra is in rain shadow region. He also does not mention that Maharashtra is monsoon dependent whereas all rivers of UP are perennial. He also does not mention that unlike Gujarat and UP much soil in Maharashtra is just inch deep on the average and hence moisture is not retained. Also while on Gujarat Mr. Gulati seems not to have taken the costs of SSP which in fact is the lifeline of irrigation water.
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                              SP
                              Sep 14, 2015 at 1:19 pm
                              Very good suggestion. I hope Government pays heed to this. Government has to make trade-offs and stop the suicides.
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                                Subhash Bhagwat
                                Sep 14, 2015 at 3:42 am
                                The answer Nr, Gulati, lies in replies to the following questions: Who has ruled Maharashtra all these decades? Who are the people that got filthy rich in the sugar business? Who has asked, and apparently got, reservations for the very same folks?
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                                  Subhash Bhagwat
                                  Sep 14, 2015 at 9:14 pm
                                  You and xyz below are right that many natural factors in Maharashtra are big obstacles, and that the new government must address these problems. But the problems were known for decades if not for centuries. That is precisely why the highest number of dams were built in the state. Mr. Gulati's point that 60% of water is used to grow sugarcane can not be brushed aside. Why are groundwater levels sinking ? Because the water from dams is not available to farmers and they pump more from the wells. Experts like the late Prof. Dhonde long ago pointed the way to enhance groundwater levels. Dr. Himanshu Kulkarni's Pune based NGO is doing the work too. Why was the government not mively involved? Even if the hilly terrain makes canals expensive, why were the dams built if canal projects were not to be given priority, and that too for decades? The new government will complete one year soon. It is important that they set their priorities right instead of wasting their political mandate on non-issues as they seem to be at least partially doing!
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