Amid a light drizzle, Dhanji Sakariya does not stop sowing groundnut in the five-bigha plot that he tills as a share-cropper. He and his bullocks seem in a hurry to finish the job.
“These showers aren’t enough. I am sowing in the hope that it will rain more in the next 4-5 days. If that doesn’t happen, I may end up wasting the seeds. Right now, there isn’t enough moisture in the soil to sustain the sprouts that will emerge in a couple of days,” opines this farmer from Baldhoi village in Jasdan taluka of Rajkot district.
But the risk is worth taking: “If I sow later, yields may get affected by dry weather towards the monsoon’s end. Also, sowing now will make it easier to go in for a rabi (winter) crop”.
For Sakariya and most other farmers in Gujarat’s Saurashtra region, agriculture is truly a gamble in the monsoon. Last year, the 45-year-old planted cotton in his entire five bigha (6.25 bigha equals one hectare). But as the monsoon was poor and there wasn’t enough water in his well for irrigation, he could harvest only 10 quintals of kapas (raw un-ginned cotton).
“This year, I have sown groundnut, in the expectation of a normal monsoon. Being a short-duration crop (90-120 days, as against 180-240 days for cotton), groundnut allows me to take a second crop of wheat or chana (chickpea) during rabi. Cotton is a good bet in bad monsoon years, like in 2018. Even if my well goes dry before the start of winter, the crop would have matured and I can harvest a certain minimum yield with little irrigation thereon,” explains Sakariya, who also maintains a cow and a buffalo in addition to his bullock-pair.
Gujarat is India’s largest cotton and groundnut-producing state, with the bulk of the output of both cash crops coming from Saurashtra. The southwest monsoon generally hits the region towards the last week of June.
This time, thanks to the cyclonic storm Vayu, the first showers were received on June 12, even without the monsoon’s formal arrival. Gir Somnath, Junagadh and Amreli districts got heavy rains on June 13 and 14, when the very severe tropical cyclone skirted the Saurashtra coast before drifting west-southwestwards. Much of the region has recorded good pre-monsoon precipitation over the last one week. The hope of this being a prelude to the real monsoon has led farmers like Sakariya to take up sowing a couple of weeks earlier — unlike in most other parts of India, where kharif plantings are lagging due to the delayed onset of the season’s rains.
In Gir Somnath’s Talala taluka — known for its Kesar variety of mangoes — farmers are actually waiting for a respite from rains to enable sowing. “My field is too wet now. It has been pouring almost daily for the last five days. I shall plant soyabean on 25 bigha once the rains stop,” states Dahya Vaghasiya, a 35-bigha farmer from Ankolvadi village, who has a mango orchard on his remaining 10 bigha.
Vaghasiya has been growing soyabean for the last three years. He used to previously cultivate groundnut, but that crop has become vulnerable to nilgai (blue bull), wild boar, monkey and even peacock raids. “They don’t touch soyabean, whose average yields (four quintals per bigha) and realisations (Rs 750 per 20 kg) are around the same as groundnut. Moreover, soyabean requires far less labour,” points out the 60-year-old, who also has a 66-feet-deep open well for irrigating his crops. “The current rains may have been Cyclone Vayu and not monsoon-induced. But the timing couldn’t have been better for sowing. If the monsoon rains follow, we can be assured of high yields and bright prospects for the rabi crop as well,” he adds.
In drought-hit Devbhoomi Dwarka, too, farmers have gone in for early kharif plantings. “I am praying that the monsoon comes in the next 10 days. If it does not, my already-sown crop will wilt, as I have no irrigation
facility,” notes Bhimshi Bhatiya from Bhandariya village in the district’s Khambhalia taluka. This 40-year-old farmer has sown groundnut in seven bigha and cotton in the rest of his 25-bigha holding. “Groundnut stems are good fodder for my four buffaloes. Many farmers in my village have stopped cultivating cotton due to repeated pink bollworm infestations. But I have stuck to it, as one shouldn’t risk growing just one crop,” he remarks.
Haresh Buha (32), who owns 50 bigha near Savarkundla in Amreli district, has no such hiccups though. He has sown cotton in his entire holding, which includes another 30 bigha being cultivated on a share-cropping basis. “I harvest an average of four quintals per bigha and am very happy with a price of Rs 5,500/quintal. I have also learnt to manage pink bollworm. If the crop fails, I simply uproot my cotton and plant rabi crops such as wheat, chana or jeera (cumin-seed),” informs this young farmer, who realised an average rate of Rs 5,750 for the 200-odd quintals of kapas that he sold in 2018-19. He also has two borewells, each 1,000-feet-deep, for irrigating his crop.
The only district in Saurashtra still to get a decent first spell of rains is Surendranagar, the country’s largest cotton-growing district. “I usually sow cotton in late-May or early-June. Besides, the Narmada canal is next to my field. This year, however, there is no water in the canal and I’m now waiting for the monsoon rains,” says Vipul Joshi, a farmer from Panshina village in Limdi taluka.