Even as farmers in Vidarbha continue to kill themselves, experts fear an agrarian crisis is sprouting in the farmlands of Beed district. Cotton cultivation in the district has seen a steep rise, which agriculturists say, may not be in the best interests of farmers.
Between 2004 and 2011, drought-stricken Beed in Marathwada recorded a 104% increase in area under cotton cultivation. For the same period, the area under rabi Jowar — Beed’s dominant crop — fell 41%.
The area under cotton went from 1.61 lakh hectares to 3.31 lakh hectares in seven years, while area under jowar reduced from 2.60 lakh hectares to 1.53 lakh hectares, according to data official data.
Since 2008-09, Marathwada has been producing more cotton than Vidarbha.
This growth has been marked by an increase in cultivation of Bt cotton. “Cotton is an important crop for Beed, and over 90% of the cotton cultivated here is Bt cotton,” Beed collector Sunil Kendrekar said. The collector of Beed’s neighbouring Jalna district also confirmed that a majority of cotton farmers were using the Bt variety.
This increase in area under cotton in Beed, and the declining popularity of rabi jowar in Marathwada have coincided with another worrying trend: farmer suicides. The first seven months of this year recorded 97 suicides linked to crop failure and debt in Marathwada. Of these, nearly half were from Beed. Ajay Dandekar is a professor at the school of social sciences in Gujarat’s Central University. He was on the 2005 Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) panel that studied farmer suicides in Vidarbha.
“The problem in Marathwada is as bad, if not worse, as it is in Vidarbha,” Dandekar said. “Agriculture in Marathwada has always been problematic, but such shifting to cotton is making it worse. The drought, coupled with a near-complete dependence on Bt cotton, is turning Marathwada into the next Vidarbha.”
The TISS report linked suicides in Vidarbha to crop failures, which the report said, were partly owing to the use of Bt cotton. In March this year, Hindustan Times reported about a note circulated internally by the Union Ministry of Agriculture among cotton growing states in the country, which linked farmer suicides to declining performance of Bt cotton seeds.
Agriculture experts and farmer activists warn against adopting Vidarbha’s overreliance on cotton.
Vijay Diwan, a member of the Marathwada Statutory Development Board (MSDB), said, “More and more area being brought under Bt cotton cultivation is worrisome. The input required per hectare for cultivating Bt cotton is very high and hence, the farmer will be overburdened to seek credit, if his crop fails. This will lead him into a vicious circle, like the ones farmers in Vidarbha find themselves in.”
Ironically, agriculture experts had suggested that Vidarbha increase its jowar cultivation to help tide over the agrarian crisis. Vijay Javandia, leading farm activist and founder of the Shetkari Sanghatana, explains how.
“In Vidarbha, most fields used to show mixed cropping with cotton, tur and jowar. This was slowly replaced by cotton, with disastrous effects. The situation is being replicated in Marathwada. Beed, once known for its jowar, [now] has little to show for, except cotton.