I Spoke to Farmers in Maharashtra & Their Misery Left Me Shocked
In late November, the east wind from Odisha travelled kilometres to reach the destination of Ahmednagar, a region in the rain shadow area of Maharashtra. Green paddy fields, irrigation canals, perennial rivers, minimum selling price for the rice and grains were the things I had witnessed, having been brought up in the state of Odisha.
My trip to Maharashtra, and the reality of the state’s highest farmer’s suicide rate, gave me the experience of what the rural poor in this plateau region goes through.
Travel by road is always an exhilarating experience, but not this time as I travelled to the village of Dhawalpuri, situated in the Parner Block of Ahmednagar.
On either side of the roads were deserted barren lands with scarce vegetation. Twelve hamlets of Dhawalpuri Panchayat were scattered in different areas in the hilly mountainous terrain. I was taken aback at the situation of people there.
The villages had a striking balance of different castes.
I visited the house of Saku Mohan Rathod in Bhokardara, a migrant labourer from Rajasthan.
Saku speaks fluently in Hindi and expresses her pain over the drought and scanty rainfall the region has been witnessing for four years.
For miles and miles, there is no sight of water sources for irrigation.
The Situation in Dhawalpuri
Dhawalpuri is a well-off village with better facilities as compared to the twelve hamlets but the plight of the villagers is the same here. Farmer Shalan Nana Pande invested money in the drip irrigation system for cultivation of jowar (sorghum) and even learnt the organic farming for better productivity.
However, she says, “with less rainfall, the drip irrigation system could not function due to low level of water.”
Majority of the farmers live in the rainfed areas and rely on natural resources for better yield. With no presence of infrastructure like irrigation channels, non-profit organisations have installed structures like watersheds, farm ponds for storing rainwater and maintaining the groundwater level. These constructions have not been evaluated and monitored for years in the ever-changing climatic variations.
Kondu Ram, a farmer from Thakarwadi says:
Onion is the only produce that was seen in the fields – as I travelled across the region – because of unfavourable rainfall. Investments in agri-inputs, participatory learning for adopting organic techniques did not benefit the farmers this year due to non-availability of water.
The problem is not limited to availability of water, but the floating prices of the little perishable yield that is cultivated.
Local Haat – the Only Saving Grace?
Everyone waits eagerly for Fridays to sell their produce in the local haat. I visited the local haat that had a display of grains, vegetables, fruits, spices and daily needs. The sellers were not only from the 12 hamlets but also from places like Bhaloni which is seven kilometres from Dhawalpuri. Minimum Support Prices (MSP) are set for pulses, paddy and few other crops but not for vegetables and fruits, leaving the rural people perplexed.
As the nation protests along with the farmers in the capital for higher remunerative prices and farmers loan debt relief, the sellers in the haat demand MSP for perishable goods as they are prey to the local traders.
When I asked her about the Kisan Mukti March, Sarda from Bhondave Wadi complained about the undetermined price of onions.
The Government of Maharashtra has appealed to the central government to fix MSP for products like onions as the state is its largest producer.
Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs) were setup to facilitate free trading of the produce by the farmers to the consumers and traders. Yet, due to floating benchmark in the prices set by the traders, the onions were sold by the farmers from Dhawalpuri for Rs 10 per kg in the APMC located in Ahmednagar district.
The lack of forward market linkages, along with low rainfall, has paralysed the farmers, worsening their condition.
Climate Change – The Second Bane
As I walked through the streets, I observed what climate change has done to the rainfed areas of this state. The state of helplessness has led to the selling of livestock as livestock activities cannot be promoted in the region due to less coverage of grazing land and the cost of fodder being Rs 5 to Rs 5.6 per kg.
The onion cultivators who are prey to the market dynamics and with no minimum support prices for their cultivation hope for a better tomorrow and want their voices to be conveyed to the government. The climate-sensitive agricultural income is the need of the moment for all farmers who are working tirelessly for food security in spite of difficult weather conditions.
For long-term, conducive change, the retailers, exporters, and food processing units as proposed by the Ministry of Food Processing Industries should be linked with every village to safeguard the yield. Extension services like real-time pricing by Agmarknet, price forecasting from data of National Horticulture Board should be introduced for a better future for the farmers.
My stay with the people from the bottom of the wealth pyramid strikes a chord with the rally in the capital, and how important it is to protect the backbone of the country.
(The author is a student of Rural Management at Xavier University, Bhubaneswar, who loves exploring heritage buildings, reading non-fiction, and pays special attention to the stories of people from the bottom of the wealth pyramid.)