Advocate Sarjerao Khilari, a horticulturist, had an annual turnover of crores of rupees through export of various fruits. In the last three years however, his production, and subsequently the income, has come to a standstill, and hundreds of farmers like him have been struggling to maintain their old sheen.
Most of the cotton-growing farmers from talukas in Sangli and Solapur districts switched to pomegranate about 15 years ago after realising the global demand for the crop. Farmers with large land holdings minted money as rates for pomegranate kept rising — they reached Rs120 per kg in 2010, from Rs30 a decade ago. The farmers would earn up to Rs7 lakh per acre, with buyers landing up at their courtyard.
“Things were going smooth till 2009 and we were making plenty of money. But the scanty rainfall in last three years has ruined everything,” said Khilari, who had planted dozens of fruit crops on his 65-acre land. “Exporters would come to us, and the fruits were exported to European and Gulf countries,” he said.
Kisan Chavan, another farmer from Aatpadi taluka in Sangli, would grow pomegranate in a part of his 8-acre land, and would earn more than Rs25 lakh a year. But now, his standing plants have wilted and burnt due to the scarcity of water. “The plants cannot be revived even if it rains this monsoon. We will have to replant the crop and wait till the next season for fruits,” he said.
Baburao Gaikwad, president of Gurudatt Fruit Processing Sanshta in Sangola, Solapur, said the loss is unprecedented. “Not only pomegranate, even sugarcane and Alphonso mango crops are also ruined. My loss is more than Rs50 lakh a year since 2010, and will continue for the next two years as the plantation for these crops need to start right from the sowing process,” he said.
Prabhakar Chandane, president of All India Association of pomegranate growers, said the loss in Sangola, Aatpadi and Jat, the three pomegranate-growing talukas, is nearly Rs150 crore. “We have about 25,000-hectare land under pomegranate cultivation, with an income of Rs8 lakh per hectare. The government has announced a compensation of Rs45,000 per acre, but even that takes months to reach the farmers,” he added.
Similar is the situation for the farming of the grapes and sugarcane in the drought-affected areas. The loss of grape production due to the water scarcity in Solapur, Osmanabad and Latur is expected to be more than Rs400 crore, as the water supply is expected to dry up from next month.
“Grape crops need 20,000 litre of water per acre every day, which is supplied by tanker at the cost of Re1 per litre. This is why we not expecting any profit; the endeavour is to sustain the plants that live for five to 10 years,” said Mahendra Shahir, president, Maharashtra Grapes Farmers Association.
Dipendra Singh Kushwah, collector of Sangli, said, “Though the state government has not announced any compensation package for the loss of pomegranate crop, we have started surveys in the affected talukas. The water from Tembhu dam will offer some respite, once work is completed in the next five to six months."