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Grape farmers fear losing social status

india Updated: Dec 11, 2009 01:22 IST
Soubhik Mitra
Soubhik Mitra
Hindustan Times

After two decades of prospering handsomely from grape farming, Ramesh Bhalerao, 45, lost everything in one week after unseasonal rainfall in mid-November destroyed 50 acres of his crop.

He is now struggling to run his household of four, and straining to not let it show — a difficult task in this small village of about a hundred families near Nashik town.

“Every villager knows that I have used up all my savings on the farm, which will yield nothing this year,” he said, his crisp shirt and shiny shoes belying his dire predicament.

Like Bhalerao, grape farmers across the state, after years of enjoying a privileged life in agriculture, face not only huge economic losses but also the prospect of social humiliation.

Rajendra Bhavar, 42, from Yesgaon village, also saw his entire farm go under. This means he may no longer be able afford his son’s education. A graduate of horticulture, the turban- and dhoti-clad Bhavar, dreamt his son would break out of the rural economy.

Nilesh, a suave 19-year-old dressed in a polo-neck shirt and track pants, studies engineering at a private college in Nashik.

He found about the damage to his father’s farm just last week when he returned home after his term ended.

He had topped his college in the previous two semesters, and Bhavar had not wanted to break the news to him in the midst of his exams.

“I cried the whole night when I found out,” recalled Nilesh.

Bhavar had planned to export his grapes on November 11. But two days before that, it began pouring and did not let up for a whole week. When farm workers squeeze a ripe bunch of black grapes, only water squirted out.

“Who will buy this grape juice?” he asked sarcastically.

Kailash Khapre, who works in an agro-lab run by the Maharashtra Rajya Draksha Bagaitdar Sangh, an umbrella body formed by grape farmers across the state, feels farmers need to be educated about changing weather patterns.

Nashik experienced extremely erratic rainfall this year. It did not rain until mid-August, and then came the heavy rain in November.

“We are spending thousands on crop medicine each time the temperature fluctuates,” said Samadhan Patil, 38, another grape farmer, who has not only lost his crop but also has a loan of Rs 5 lakh.

Some climate scientists say that the Indian monsoon is likely to become more erratic.

“The number of days with rainfall is likely to drop, but the amount of rainfall will not change. This means more dry spells and frequent floods,” said K Krishnakumar, the Pune-based Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology’s programme director for climate change.