Shift to cash crops, deficit rainfall to blame for agrarian crisis in Marathwada: IIT-B study

Published on Jun 10, 2020 11:49 PM IST
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ByPriyanka Sahoo, Mumbai

A gradual shift towards cash crops at the expense of food crops and deficit rainfall over the years are the primary reasons behind the agrarian crisis in Maharashtra’s drought-hit Marathwada region, according to a study conducted by the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay (IIT-B).

Published in the Environmental Research Letters in May, the study analyses the role of rainfall deficits and cropping choices in loss of agricultural yield in Marathwada. The study by a team of research scholars in the civil engineering and climate change departments has found that between 1998 and 2014, the acreage of crop cultivation in Marathwada has skewed rapidly in favour of cash crops. For example, in the Kharif season, the cropped area for the water-guzzling sugarcane crop was almost zero hectares (ha) in 1998. However, since 2002, the acreage of the crop has risen steeply. By 2014, sugarcane occupied almost 1ha cropped area.

“The total acreage under the few Rabi crops is about 14% of the main, monsoon-fed Kharif acreage. We observe an increase in acreage under sugarcane, cotton and soybean in the Kharif season, and, wheat and chickpea in the Rabi season with a simultaneous decrease in other crops such as sorghum and pearl millet in the Kharif season, and, sunflower and safflower in the Rabi season,” read the study.

Marathwada region is a cluster of eight districts-- Aurangabad, Beed, Hingoli, Jalna, Latur, Nanded, Osmanabad, Parbhani - lies to the east of Maharashtra and records a significant number of farmer suicides. In 2017, a researcher from the University of California, Berkeley, had found that temperature during India’s main agricultural growing season has a strong positive effect on annual suicide rates, particularly at Marathwada.

However, the recent study by IIT-B researchers refuted the claim stating that rainfall deficit rather than increasing temperatures had a direct impact on the farmers’ distress in the region.

“We aimed to understand and analyse how crops are sensitive to temperature and rainfall. We sought to understand the role of soil moisture and groundwater after the monsoon on the crop yields. What we found is that a shift towards cash crops at the expense of drought-resistant food crops as well as a rainfall deficit can be attributed to the crisis in Marathwada,” said Mariam Zachariah, a research scholar from the department of civil engineering and the co-author of the study. The data used in the study were received from the central government.

Based on the study findings, researchers have suggested that encouraging farmers to revert to drought-resistant food crops such as sorghum and pearl-millet, could help ease the burden on farmers. “The agrarian crisis in the region is a much more complex problem with social aspects to it. However, based on our findings, going forward gradually shifting to the food crops is one of the ways the agrarian crisis can be handled, scientifically,” said Zachariah.

However, Anand Pole, secretary-general of the Chamber of Marathwada Industries and Agriculture, doesn’t completely agree with the findings of the study. “Along the Godavari, wherever water is available, farmers have moved to cash crops such as sugarcane but that is not true for all farmers. At places where water is not available, farmers are still growing food crops such as jowar, bajra, toor dal among others,” said Pole.

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