Last week, Ramkrishna Darale (42) uprooted all the hand-made wooden trellises on which he grew grapes on a one-acre plot because it will bear no fruit this year. The farm that had fed his family of 12 for the past eight years now lies devastated.
Both the late onset of the monsoon and the unseasonal downpour from November 9 to November 16 triggered by Cyclone Phyan damaged half the state’s grape crop, said J.M. Khillare, president, Maharashtra Rajya Draksha Bagaitdar Sangh (MRDBS), an umbrella body formed by grape farmers across the state.
This works out to about 70,000 acres of crop across Nashik, Sangli, Solapur and Pune districts, with the state’s wine capital bearing half the losses. Grape farming employs about 3 lakh people spread across these four districts.
As climate negotiators decide the planet’s future in Copenhagen, the state’s rich farmers are already feeling the heat of erratic weather patterns. This year’s crop failure is a stark example of the kind of physical and economic damage that unexpected changes in the climate can wreak.
“I have not seen such erratic rains in the past 40 years,” said Khillare.
The impact will soon show in Mumbai’s fruit markets since prices are likely to double from last year. It could go up to Rs 140 a kilogram. Moreover, fat juicy grapes are likely to be missing.
“The unseasonal rain has also affected the quality of fruit,” said Balasaheb Bande, president of the Fruit Merchants’ Welfare Association, a city-based lobby group of fruit sellers.
It did not rain in Nashik until mid-August, forcing Bhausaheb Bhalerao, another grape farmer from Vadner, a nearby town, to construct an artificial well in the middle of his farm. The crop was doing fine with this intervention, when he was dealt another blow the unexpected rain that came with Cyclone Phyan.
“Forty per cent of the produce is damaged,” said the 44-year-old farmer.
Acknowledging the threat to agriculture from unpredictable weather, the state appointed-team of climate scientists from the Delhi-based The Energy and Resource Institute last month began conducting a two-year study of climate change’s impact on the state. “Agriculture is the most vulnerable sector,” said Dr Sanjay Tomar, senior fellow at the Institute.