Production of pomegranates, a major component in Maharashtra’s export basket, may fall by nearly 25 per cent this year as the drought has led to massive wilting losses across orchards in the state.
Pomegranate is grown over an area of nearly 2.46 lakh hectares in the country and in the last fiscal year, India had reported export of 67,891 tonnes of the fruit. Maharashtra is the leading producer of the fruit, and most of it is grown in the arid region of Solapur. Pomegranate is a viable crop for arid regions that have limited options for irrigation, with some farmers in the area using drip irrigation and cultivating the crop over stored water in field ponds.
But severe moisture stress due to last years’ drought has affected orchards in the districts of Solapur, Ahmednagar and Pune, where pomegranate is mostly grown.
Farmers control flowering of their orchards to ensure quality fruit production. Called bahar treatment, this involves halting irrigation to stop flowering. Usually, irrigation is withheld for 45 days, after which normal operations — application of fertiliser and other items — is started. Post this treatment, flowering and subsequent fruit formation start. Fruits formed through this process are better in quality and fetch better prices. But, due to the drought, farmers have not been able to restart irrigation for their orchards. The subsequent flowering and fruit formation has not taken place.
Ankush Padvale, president of the Maharashtra Organic and Residue Free Farmers Association, said almost 30-40 per cent of the orchards have suffered irreversible damage due to water stress. Many farmers were not even able to get the required fruit treatments done due to lack of water. “Farmers who have lost their orchards will have to start from scratch,” he said, adding, “We are waiting for the promised drought aid by the state government”.
Mango growers are also facing a similar situation as, of the 10,000 hectares of mango orchards in drought-affected Marathwada region, 15-20 per cent has wilted. Horticulturist and group farming expert Dr Bhagwanrao Kapse, who grows Kesar mango in Aurangabad, said this was a serious setback for farmers in the region.
Mango growers are also waiting for government aid to help them tide over the crisis.