Timely onset of monsoon and availability of extra farm hand have seen farmers in Maharashtra racing ahead with their sowing operations. As of June 18, Maharashtra has reported 60.56 lakh hectares of sowing, compared to the 39,176 hectares of sowing at this time last year.
By June 14, almost all of Maharashtra was covered by the monsoon, with drought-prone Marathwada and Vidarbha regions reporting its onset even earlier. The state has already received 178 mm of rainfall, as against the 166.1 mm it normally receives by this time of the year.
Last year, Maharashtra had received just 65.8 mm of rains by June 18 but this year, barring Konkan, all other regions in the state have received more than their normal share of rainfall. Good rains have propelled farmers to accelerate sowing activities.
Soyabean, cotton and bajra, cultivated mostly by farmers in Marathwada and Vidarbha regions, have been the most-sown crops this year. The state has reported 23.77 lakh hectares of cotton sowing, which is almost 57 per cent of its normal 41.78 lakh hectares acreage. Soyabean has been sown across 18.75 lakh hectares and maize has been sown across 4.23 lakh hectares.
Among pulses, urad (Vigna mundo) has been the most cultivated, thanks to its current high prices in wholesale markets. Farmers have sown urad over 9.70 lakh hectares, far higher than the 3.59 lakh hectares it is normally grown on.
While timely rain has helped farmers move ahead with sowing operations full throttle, the easy availability of labour has also been a major contributing factor. Since the lockdown began, many migrant labourers, especially those from Marathwada region, have returned to their villages from other states or other districts in Maharashtra.
As work and fear of coronavirus infection stops them from returning to urban centres again to look for work, many have taken to assisting in the sowing operations. Confirming this trend, Vilas Uphade, from the village of Takli Badrapur in Latur district, said availability of extra labour and good rains have accelerated the sowing process.
In Beed, activist Ashok Tangde of the Jagar Pratishthan found during a survey that thousands of labourers are headed back to Mumbai or Pune. “These workers who came from the big city back to the villages are often unable to do farm labour, they have picked up some skill sets in the industries where they work. But overall, the number of workers available in the rural parts most certainly outstripped the numbers needed for the farming season, so labour compensation has fallen,” Tangde told The Indian Express. He said Beed, which is home to more than 8 lakh sugarcane harvest labourers who migrate every year for work, anyway has a labour surplus problem, exacerbated by the lockdown and the reverse migration.
The easy availability of labour, however, has seen wages fall, with women farm labourers most affected by it.
In Nashik district, farmers’ leader Hansraj Wadghule Patil said labourer wages have been low since the lockdown began, and people began to return to villages. “Men are getting paid Rs 250 per day instead of Rs 300 earlier, and women’s wages are down to Rs 150 or Rs 175,” said the former president of the Shetkari Sangharsh Sanghatana.
At the age of 65, Asrabai Walkunde still works in the fields along with the rest of her family, including her husband Bhausaheb, their two sons and daughters-in-law. Though they own about 1.5 acres of land, they need to work to supplement the income from cultivating the unirrigated land. Residents of Kharegaon village in Georai, Beed, the Walkundes are now a labourer family. “Women are getting paid only Rs 100 per day now,” Asrabai said. “It used to be Rs 200 in good times, but now even the Rs 100-per-day work is often not available at all. There seems to be more people and less work.”
“In a village in Wadwani taluka, about 40 women approached the talathi last week asking for work — there is no work available on farms there. After we intervened and taught them how to seek work through the correct application form, they still haven’t received any work,” Tangde said.
With not enough farm work available and when available, too poorly paid, men and women are both continuing to look for work under the job guarantee scheme.
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