Maharashtra is again in the midst of a drought. As a long and cruel summer awaits the state, rural Maharashtra is already feeling the heat of the drought with reports of migrations pouring in from various parts of the state. Farmers are now faced with double-trouble, which promises to increase their indebtedness.
Till the end of September, Maharashtra has recorded a 30 per cent deficit in rainfall. North Maharashtra and Marathwada are facing the burnt with parts of Vidarbha also experiencing the effects of deficit rainfall. The state government in October officially declared drought in 180 of the 350 talukas in Maharashtra. Relief and rehabilitation work is, however, yet to start as the central government is yet to send its team to verify the situation on the ground.
Drought is not new to Maharashtra or Marathwada. Barring the Konkan region, almost all of Maharashtra has experienced drought at least once in the last 16 years. The central government’s department of agriculture has marked out the districts of Marathwada as especially prone to drought with most of them experiencing drought almost every third year. This region is yet to access the benefits of irrigation and thus, in case of deficit rainfall, the agrarian distress is telling.
What makes this drought unique is that perhaps this will be the first time when the state will register both a kharif drought as well as a rabi drought. A kharif drought is declared not later than October 30 while the rabi drought is mostly declared by the end of March. The later is relatively rare given most of the rabi crop in the state is grown either on soil moisture or on assured irrigation. Both of which are not possible now given the extreme low soil moisture and also the decision to reserve water in the reservoirs for drinking purposes in summer.
The spatial distribution of rainfall throws out a disturbing trend. Most parts of the state, including that of North Maharashtra and Marathwada, had recorded near-normal rainfall during the months of June and July. August, however, turned sour with rains taking a long break. The situation failed to get better in the subsequent months.
Spurred by the good rains in June and July, farmers had accelerated their sowing activities. In some parts, farmers, especially those sowing cotton and soyabean, had gone for resowing as the germination of the seeds had failed because of the dry spell. The long gap in the rains during August had sounded the death knell for the crops. Absence of rains in the crucial pod formation effected yield, which failed to recover later. For cotton, the vegetative growth was lacking and, thus, instead of 5-6 quintals an acre farmers reported yields as low as 50 kg. The situation was just slightly better for soyabean with farmers reporting 1-2 quintals per acre yield as against the normal 7-10 quintals an acre.
Low yields ironically come at a time when commodity prices have just started looking up. What is more serious is the possible rabi loss, which is going to increase the farm distress. Till November 20, Maharashtra reported 27 per cent sowing, which last year was 55 per cent. For want of soil and sub-soil moisture, most farmers are letting their holdings lie fallow as sowing would mean a dead investment.
Jowar, wheat, maize and chana are some of the major rabi crops in the state. These crops also provide green fodder for dairy farmers for the upcoming summer months. Thus, the inability of farmers to take these crops has put a question mark on their livestock also. Distress sale of animals has already started with prices dropping drastically. Cattle markets across the state have seen business dwindle.
Back in 2015, Maharashtra had faced drought, forcing the government to send drinking water via trains to Latur. However, even then one of the two crops was taken by farmers, so distress was not felt so seriously. This year the loss of both crops will add to the financial distress of farmers. Low commodity prices since 2016 due to various reasons like demonetisation and GST have reduced the earnings of farmers. This drought will add to their woes.