At Krishna Dharma Bhamre’s grape farm in Pingalwada, located 280 km north of Mumbai, a heady smell of fermented grapes fills the air. But it is not from wine in the making at the vineyard. It is the smell of an entire grape harvest destroyed at Bhamre’s farm due to unseasonal rain.
“These grapes would have fetched us anything between Rs 120 to Rs 150 per kg in the export market. The rain has made them worthless. One company offered to purchase the affected crops for Rs 3 per kg. I told them that I would prefer to let them rot in my farm,” Bhamre says.
Bhamre, who owns over 100 acres of farmland, has the financial clout to absorb the loss. However, for a majority of the 400 grape farmers in the district, the unseasonal rain has delivered a crippling blow from which they say they will not be able to recover without government help.
Maharashtra is in the middle of an agrarian crisis with 54.22 lakh hectares of the total 138.82 lakh hectares under kharif sowing damaged in the unexpected post-monsoon rain that the state received in the last week of October.
Among the hardest hit are grape farmers of Nashik, India’s grape capital, contributing to nearly 70 per cent of the total grape production in the country. Nearly 90 per cent grapes that India exports is from Nashik.
According to government estimates, grape is cultivated on 60,000 hectares of land in Nashik district. Last week’s rain has severely affected the grape crop on 32,000 hectares, as per government estimates. Farmers in Nashik, however, said the extent of damage was way higher than the preliminary estimates.
The hardest hit are farmers like Bhamre, who were planning to export their produce to meet the global grape demand during this season. The normal peak grape season in the state is February-March. Farmers from Satana region like Bhamre, however, harvest their crop in October in order to get better return from the export market. While grapes in most other vineyards in the district were in their flowering stage, in Satana, farmers had their crop ready for harvest and export. This is when the unseasonal rain hit the region and destroyed the crop.
“There will be a massive reduction in grape export from India this year. The availability of grapes in the local market will also go down. I can’t give an exact number today but production is bound to come down by close to 60 per cent,” said Ravindra Borade, chairman of the Nashik division of the Maharashtra State Grape Growers Association.
Borade said he would go as far as to claim that this year’s rain had posed an “existential threat” to the grape cultivation industry.
“There is a need for a systemic review of the way this sector operates. It needs fundamental policy changes. Presently, crop insurance cover is provided for only a six-month period for grapes. There is a need to extend it for a complete year,” he said.
The normal production cost of cultivating grapes is Rs 2.5 lakh to 3 lakh per hectare under normal conditions. With the bulk of their crop destroyed, many farmers have lost hope of recovering their investment.
“With the crop completely destroyed, farmers have no way of recovering their cost. They also need to pay crop loans and raise money for next year’s cultivation. With no likely returns this year, the situation looks bleak,” Bhamre said.
The government has said it was working on a plan to address the concerns of grape farmers. “It is a critical situation. We are looking at ways to address the situation. As of now, we have asked all district banks to stop all recovery of loans,” said Agriculture Secretary Eknath Dawale.