The dry spell across Maharashtra since the start of the month has triggered fresh distress among farmers, already ravaged by two years of hailstorms and drought.
Following the initial spell of rainfall in June, most farmers began planting crops, and 60% of the state’s farm lands have been sown so far. But with the state having received just 16.6mm of rain so far this month, time is quickly running out for farmers who sowed seeds after the first round of rainfall around June 15. If it doesn’t rain soon, their efforts will be wasted and their livelihoods jeopardised.
Statistics show that most parts of the state, except for the Konkan region, have been experiencing a dry spell since around June 25. The latest figures show that of the state’s 353 talukas, 300 have received less than a quarter of normal rainfall in July.
“It needs to rain right away if the crops are to be saved. Ideally, it must rain within 10 days of sowing, depending on the crop. Most farmers in Maharashtra are close to this deadline and need rainfall immediately,” said Ajay Dandekar, an agriculture researcher and a faculty member at Shiv Nadar University.
If the rains fail now, many farmers will lose the money they spent on sowing, which can be anywhere from Rs 5,000 to Rs 6,000 an acre, dependent on the crop. In struggling rural economies in the Vidarbha and Marathwada regions, many farmers have had to borrow money to sow. The failure of their crops would push them further into debt and possibly cause a spate of suicides.
Dr Madhukar Gumbale, director of Apeksha Homeo Society, which works with farmers across Vidarbha, said their distress was beginning to show. “For some farmers, it may actually be too late. After two bad years, they saw a glimmer of hope with the early rains this year and sowed their seeds soon after. Even if it rains now, crop production will be stunted for most farmers.”
According to Dr Gumbale, the average debt-ridden farmer of Vidarbha may not even be able to afford a second sowing, even if the rains were to hit now. “The average farmer has been in debt for the past two years and has had to borrow more money this year. If his crops are ruined, there is little chance he will have the courage to borrow again,” he said.
Cotton farmers comprise the majority of those who have committed suicide over the past two years, and a major worry this year is that 89% of cotton fields have already been sown. “This is disturbing. It means that Vidarbha and Marathwada, where cotton is a major crop, have seen a lot of sowing. Both regions also have a large number of farmers in distress, and their situation could get even worse,” said Dandekar.