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Weather extremes: The deluge after the drought

The Marathwada region’s farmers are facing nature’s wrath yet again — this time from excess rains.

marathwada, marathwada flood, crop lost, marathwada crop lost, kharif crop, kharif crop lost, devendra fadnavis, drought, latur, beed, indian express news, india news Flooded fields below the bridge connecting Latur to Renapur in Maharashtra. (Express Photo: Narayan Pawle)

Through much of September, Sopan Garje of Dadegaon village in Beed district’s Ashti taluka, was quite a content man. President of a farmer-producer company, a festive Diwali seemed around the corner for his group of farmers cultivating nearly 1,000 acres of moong (green gram) and urad (black gram).

But towards end-September, the water body not far from their village adjoining the Kada Medium Irrigation Project suddenly filled up to 40 per cent capacity, after having been practically bone dry for months. “I knew something was wrong,” says this progressive farmer in his 40s, who uses every available agro-met service to plan his cropping schedule.

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Fortunately, it was raining heavily in just the five-km area around the Kada project, covering Dadegaon and nearby villages. Garje’s group managed to harvest their urad and moong crops in the nick of time. But just a few days later, his own onion crop got washed away. Other group members similarly saw their soyabean crops suffer severe damage from the torrential rains through the first week of October. Small patches of bajra (pearl millet) and cotton were also destroyed.

“Shock after repeated tragedies” is how Amol Jadhav, a local journalist and a farmer himself from Kaij in Beed, describes the latest setback. After consecutive drought years that crippled the rural economy
of Marathwada — impoverishing even relatively better-off agricultural households — it is the excess rains from the withdrawing southwest monsoon that has caused heavy losses for many farmers of the region this time.

Marathwada received 824.8 mm of rainfall during June-September, over a fifth higher than its normal quota of 682.9 mm for the four-month monsoon season. And it hasn’t stooped raining even after September 30. During October 1-12, Latur district has recorded 200 per cent excess precipitation, with these at 197 per cent for Hingoli, 172 per cent for Nanded, 171 per cent for Beed and 159 per cent for Osmanabad. The region’s other three districts — Jalna (111 per cent), Parbhani (104 per cent) and Aurangabad (73 per cent) — have also registered above-normal rains so far this month, even if not to the same extent.

In all, out of the 76 talukas in the Marathwada region, 23 have already received more than 125 per cent of their total average annual rainfall quota. And significant part of these rains have come since the last week of September — just when the standing kharif crop has been due for harvesting or closer to maturity. The contrast with the situation just a few months back — when the Maharashtra government pressed in a record number of water tankers for the parched region’s villages and towns — couldn’t have been starker. This time, an estimated 3,800 villages of Marathwada have been affected by excess rains, as opposed to its 9,000 villages that were declared drought-hit earlier in the year.

According to initial estimates made by district collectors, crops worth more than Rs 500 crore have been damaged in Latur, Beed and Osmanabad alone. That figure is likely to go up with more detailed village-level surveys. An early assessment has pegged the total crop loss across Marathwada at 9,15,431 hectares, out of the 49 lakh hectares area that was planted to crops during the current kharif season. Latur has been the worst hit, accounting for nearly 3,94,000 hectares of the regions’ total affected farmland. In Beed, as much as 3,68,000 hectares out of the district’s 7,98,000 hectares of agricultural land have officially sustained crop damage.

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“Soyabean has been almost wiped out. Out of the 2,40,000 hectares that was sown under the crop, approximately 2,05,000 hectares has been washed away or damaged,” said Beed district collector Naval Kishore Ram. Soyabean, which has become increasingly popular among Marathwada’s farmers over the past decade, is a light plant particularly prone to losses from either water-logging or extreme dryness.

Besides soyabean, another one lakh hectares under Bt cotton has also been affected in Beed. Areas such Patoda and Majalgaon with fields on the banks of the Sindphana and Bindusara — tributaries of the Godavari — are reported to have suffered damage extending to all crops, including soyabean, cotton, tur (pigeon-pea), moong and urad.

While soyabean has been the worst-affected, farmers say that even the cotton bolls have been soaked and damaged, while tur in many places has witnessed sprouting of the grains. An assessment of damage from fungal infections is also still underway.

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The India Meteorological Department’s rainfall map depicting the south monsoon’s performance for the whole season has shown only four sub-divisions in the country to have received excess rains this time. Marathwada is among the four — a rare occurrence for a region that has experienced deficit monsoon in three out of the preceding four years.

This year, it has rained so much that six of the 18 floodgates on the Dhanegaon dam across the Manjara River had to be opened. Farmlands across one km of either bank in Beed’s Kaij and Ambajogai talukas and in several places of Latur are still water-logged. The same Dhanegaon dam ran dry early this summer, necessitating a dramatic supply of drinking water to Latur city via railway wagons. Latur municipality, then, was in a position to supply water only once a month.

But wouldn’t these excess rains be of help at least in the coming rabi season? Garje isn’t optimistic even about that: “One in every four or five farmers is facing problems of severe erosion of their soils from the latest rains. That will make field preparation for the next crop challenging”. In some areas, the flooded farmland is too soggy for farmers to even enter the fields for any kind of land preparation for sowing, according to Garje.

First published on: 13-10-2016 at 01:00 IST
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