Farmers say it can be as many as six years before a sweet lime shrub starts bearing fruit. Imagine a farmer's plight when, after all the nurturing and the wait, his crop fails because it doesn’t get water.
This, in a nutshell, is the story of several farmers in the districts of Jalna and Aurangabad, which form what may be termed as the state's sweet lime basket. The states are reeling under a severe water scarcity and the fruit crop has taken a hit.
Most state highways that cut through Jalna have, for years, been flanked by sweet lime shrubs. But with water barely available, the shrubs have started withering. Orchards once perfumed by citrus are now littered with rotting fruit.
Last year, the production of sweet lime in Jalna touched nearly 1.5 lakh quintals. However, poor rainfall this year, couple with an acute depletion of the region's groundwater table is fast killing the sweet lime crop.
Sambhaji Kadule would attest to the frightful scenario. Till last year, the 55-year-old farmer from Jalna's Ambad district — one of the worst affected talukas in Marathwada — would cultivate sweet lime and cotton on his eight-acre field. This year, he watched his sweet lime crop die. Kadule's hopes are dim — the produce will not even be 30% of what it was last year, he says. Scared, he is unwilling to sow cotton seeds.
The neighbouring Aurangabad district suffers from the same fate. Till last year, Kisarnrao Gaikwad's three-acre orchard in Paithan's Porgaon village would boast of some of the most succulent sweet limes. This year, his orchard is a nursery of rotting fruit with deadwood for company. As many as 100 of the 400 trees on his farm had to be uprooted.
It's not just sweet lime. Cotton cultivation in the region has taken a hit too, as has sugarcane and cultivation of jowar and bajra.
Jalna collector Tukaram Mundhe confirmed that the crop had taken a hit. "We have found that sweet lime cultivation has been badly affected because of water scarcity. We are hoping that the retreating rainfall offers some relief, but the fruit's production will be severely hit," he said.
A trader from Navi Mumbai's Agricultural Produce Market committee said the impact would be visible in the city as well. "Fruit from Jalna usually goes to Nagpur, among other places, from where it is often sourced by city traders. Hence, the situation might cause an escalation in prices of sweet lime," he said.