Abysmally low area under irrigation, decreasing productivity, rising debts have been part of the Beed farmer's life; add to these a failed monsoon and drought conditions and it is no wonder that the Beed farmer is getting pushed over the edge. Out of the 97 suicides recorded this year in the eight districts comprising the Marathwada region, as many as 41 have been from Beed alone. Since 2004, 583 farmers have committed suicides, according to official statistics. Local experts say this number is likely to increase.
Beed has been severely drought-hit. More than two months into the monsoon, the district has received only 25% of its annual average rainfall. While a major part of the district falls into the scarcity zone, the irrigation pattern does not reflect this. Only a dismal 15.62% has been irrigated, leaving large swathes of the district completely dependent on rainfall. The result, farmers say, is increased borrowing and debts.
Bajrang More, 40, would testify. More has a field little over three acres in Beed’s Gevrai taluka, where he grows cotton. However, slowly decreasing yield every year has now left More with an Rs 3.21lakh debt. “This year, despite spending money on sowing, I have no hopes of any crops. How will I pay my debt back?”
As a result, banks here are seeing a very high rate of farmers defaulting. For instance, the Marathwada Rural bank, one of the leading banks which lends to farmers in this district, is witnessing more than 50 per cent of its loans defaulted.
Its regional manager, Shivaji Kerure, says, “As a result, many farmers are taking multiple loans, hoping to pay back at least one of the lenders and thus, digging a deeper hole for themselves.” Enough reasons to drive the farmer here up the wall. The drought is the final nail in his coffin.
The district has been steadily growing away from traditional Kharif crops like jowar and bajra, while heading towards more rewarding cash crops. The production of Jowar, in 2002-03, was around 55,000 metric tonnes, which fell drastically to 14,600 metric tonnes in 2011-12, while Bajra reduced from 1.35 lakh metric tonnes to 97,000 metric tonnes.
The problem is that cash crops also mean higher costs and risks involved. “Earlier, a farmer’s cattle would be taken care of because of his own Jowar and Bajra crops. Now, with its decreasing production, there is added pressure on the farmer to look for fodder,” said Sunil Kendrekar, Beed collector.