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What drought means to a Marathwada farmer

The big question in the minds of everyone who can recall is: Will 2015 for Marathwada turn out worse than the worst-ever drought of 1972?

Written by Kavitha Iyer | Parbhani (maharashtra) |
August 27, 2015 1:00:50 am
Indian farmer, Sadashiv Kathurappa Gajmal, soyabean crop, cotton crop, monsson, indian monsoon, Marathwada farmer, drought, Indian express Sadashiv Kathurappa Gajmal.

Sadashiv Kathurappa Gajmal, 44, has long stopped introducing himself as a farmer. “I am a labourer,” says this father of four and owner of 2.5 acres of land in Charthana village of Parbhani’s Jintur taluka. Unfortunately, he has had little or no work for the past several weeks in Charthana’s 2,464 hectares of totally dried-up soyabean, cotton and pulse fields.

Gajmal is particularly agitated today, after having to request two buckets of water from a neighbour’s near-dry well: “I’ve been buying water, but the tanker-wallah charges Rs 10 for three handis of 10 litres each. How can I shell out this much every day?”

That is the common refrain in across rural households in Parbhani – how to arrange water for even drinking, forget irrigation. The district has so far received barely 178 mm or about 22 per cent of its normal average rainfall of 774 mm for monsoon season (June-September). Jintur’s average precipitation until now is 186 mm, while the neighbouring Selu and Pathri talukas have got 224 and 124 mm respectively as on date this time.

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On his own field, Gajmal completed sowing of soyabean, urad (black gram) and moong (green gram) on June 18. At that time, he felt rather pleased, as the heavy mid-June rains continued for the next few days. “Soyabean planting costs Rs 8,000 per acre,” he grumbles now, just days after ploughing out his totally dried-up moong and urad crops. The 45-day dry spell just days after sowing forced most farmers here to do the same to their moong and urad fields.

In Selu taluka’s Chikalthana village, many farmers undertook re-sowing early this month after fresh spells of rains. Their burst of enthusiasm was misplaced, it appears now, with a renewed dry spell and Marathwada’s August rainfall only marginally better than July’s. The cumulative seasonal deficit has grown to over 60 per cent in Parbhani, Latur and Osmanabad districts.

While moong and urad pulses crops have completed failed this kharif, soyabean and cotton grown on denser soils have shown some vegetative growth. Farmers are hopeful that September’s anticipated rains will help recover part of their costs. But Gajmal is not one of them. “I removed everything, reploughed my entire field,” he says. The latest official crop advisories are to wait for an early rabi season — provided it rains enough in September. Like 60 per cent or so of Parbhani’s farmers, Gajmal skipped the last rabi season because of the 2014 monsoon failure that left behind very little soil moisture. Even his 2013 kharif crop was partially damaged by hail; yet Gajmal counts it as his last real earning from his land. Since then, he has subsisted on daily wages in others’ farms. The long summer this time has undermined even that possibility, raising doubts whether he can afford college fees for his eldest son, who has just completed Class 12.

The big question in the minds of everyone who can recall is: Will 2015 for Marathwada turn out worse than the worst-ever drought of 1972?

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