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Green shoots, finally

Parched Bundellkhand has seen late but strong revival of monsoon in the last few weeks, giving farmers a reason to hope for a healthy rabi crop, writes Pankaj Jaiswal.

india Updated: Sep 21, 2009 00:34 IST
Pankaj Jaiswal

A month ago, the outlook was desperately grim, but a strong revival of the monsoon in recent weeks has revived hopes among farmers in Bundelkhand — a large swathe of barren land straddling parts of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

So far this month, the Uttar Pradesh part of Bundelkhand has received up to 162 mm of rain that have left enough moisture in the soil for a good crop to be sown in the winter months.

“Losing the kharif crop didn’t worry us as much as the uncertainty about the rabi crop did until last month,” said Natthu Singh, a 35-year-old farmer from Amkhera village in Jalaun district.

“But now we are hopeful. For us, rabi is the main crop.”

The kharif crop is usually sown toward end of June, on the arrival of monsoon, and harvested through September and October, while the rabi season starts in November-December.

Farmers in Bundelkhand, where rainfall is often scanty, prefer crops that need less water, especially those sown in winter months — wheat, black gram, mustard and pea.

Last year, they had a bumper rabi crop after a decade’s spell of drought and misery.

But the joy appeared short-lived as India faced one of the worst monsoons in decades.

Through June to August, rainfall was deficient by 24 per cent compared to normal level. Bundelkhand was among the worst hit. So much so, it got into news recently because indebted farmers were allegedly mortgaging their wives with private moneylenders.

The late revival of monsoon has brought the much needed respite to people of Bundelkhand — one of the country’s most impoverished.

Farmer Pushpendra Kumar Singh, 50, of Pandauli village in Banda district, 275 kilometers southwest of Lucknow, is hoping for a repeat of last year.

“Last year, we sowed wheat, gram, and peas. And our crops were good. I got 20 quintals (1 quintal = 100 kg) of wheat from five acres in the last rabi season,” said Singh.

“In the market a quintal fetches Rs 850. I sold half of the 20 quintals and kept the rest for my family,” said Singh, who own eight acres (1 acre = 43,560 square feet) of land.

Smaller farmers like Nathuram Rajput, 31, in Madhogarh in Jalaun, who tills a three-acre plot of land, did not sell their produce.

“I did not sell my produce and still have stocks left from the last crop. This year if the crop turns out to be good, I will sell a part of it. From what I earn I will invest in better seeds and fertilisers,” he said.

In Bundelkhand, monsoon has been a reluctant guest for over a decade, since 1997 to be precise.

The situation turned grim during 2002 to 2007, when farmers had increasingly abandoned sowing their land even in the rabi season. So much so that in the rabi season of 2007, even the Uttar Pradesh government confirmed that more than 90 per cent of the land was unsown in Bundelkhand.

It is only last year that cultivation resumed in the region when the trend reversed for the rabi season after a strong bout of monsoon downpour.

And the good rainfall last year resulted in a large number of harvesting machines being hired from Punjab and Haryana.

More than 2,000 farmers committed suicide during 2002-07 under the burden of debt.

Agricultural experts too say that good rain in the past two weeks has revived hopes for the agrarian economy.

All the seven Uttar Pradesh districts of the region have received plenty of rain.