Sakhubai Dhere’s eyes filled with tears of despair as she plucked the few tomatoes that had survived the previous day’s rain on her three-acre farm in Pimpalgaon, 210 km north of Mumbai. Last year, she harvested 125 crates per acre of tomatoes, each weighing 20 kg. On Saturday, as she walked from one plant to the other, Dhere says, she would be lucky if she managed to put together 20 crates.
Only a month ago, the 68-year-old farmer, who has been working on the farm since she was 16, was readying herself for a bumper tomato crop. But the extended wet weather in Maharashtra, coupled with the two-day rain in the last leg of October, has literally “poured cold water” on her dreams.
“The last few days have been very bad. Never in my life have I had to witness such erratic rainfall. This is the worst harvest season of my life,” she says. Dhere is among 4.5 lakh farmers in Nashik district who are staring at the worst harvest in the last five decades.
While Pimpalgaon receives an annual average rainfall of around 630 mm, this year it received 1,283 mm rainfall, of which 283 mm was received in the last 30 days alone. The rain this year, villagers say, has been among the most intense that the area has known in a generation, and the scale of the disaster it has wreaked to the standing crop is only slowly becoming apparent.
Unseasonal rain that lashed the state in the last week of October has put Maharashtra in the middle of another agrarian crisis with 54.22 lakh hectares (more than 40 per cent) of the total 138.82 lakh hectares under kharif sowing damaged. In Nashik district alone, of the 7.40 lakh hectares of farmland, crop on 3.83 lakh hectares has been completely destroyed affecting around 4.52 lakh farmers.
Small and marginal farmers, the worst-hit by the agrarian crisis, have lost their entire crop and hope of a better future. Balu Trimbak Hire says his entire soyabean harvest on three-acre land was washed away by the rain last week. “I had harvested soyabean and had kept it on my farm thinking that I would sell it in the coming days. But heavy rains washed away the entire harvest. Rainfall also destroyed the soyabean crop that I had not yet harvested,” Hire, who is staring at financial uncertainty, says.
“My only source of income was my harvest. With it gone, I do not have any way of generating money. The government help will be minimal, and I am dreading how I will be able to sustain my life and plan the next sowing. This has been the bleakest Diwali for me and many other farmers like me in this region,” Hire adds.
On Saturday, the state government approved Rs 10,000 crore as immediate relief to the farmers who have suffered crop loss in the state. Affected farmers are, however, concerned over whether this would be enough to help pull them back from”the brink.
“The real impact of this crisis will start unfolding next month when cities start facing a shortage of vegetables and agricultural produce. There needs to be a long-term plan for the revival of this distressed sector. As of now, this seems to be absent,” Ravindra Borade, chairman of Nashik division of Maharashtra State Grape Growers Association said.
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