Farming During the Drought: The Hope From Khadkat Farm

Last week Richard Grubb travelled to Pimparkhed to meet Shivai Dnyandeo Karande where he discussed the impact of the drought on his family farm

Shivaji and his wife at home on their farm.
Shivaji and his wife at home on their farm.

Shivaji has been a great friend to CRHP for many years and can always be found with a beaming smile on his face, whether assisting with projects, or mobilizing the residents of his village – Pimparkhed – for a meeting. Like many Maharashtran farmers, the last few years have been tough on him and his family, but despite the worrying signs for farmers, he remains hopeful of late monsoon rains and a respite from the daily grind of drought.

The state of Maharashtra has been suffering from drought conditions on and off for nearly three years now and the impact upon farming families has been devastating. Although the current monsoon season has brought more rain to the area than the previous two, the water table remains ominously low, and for farmers like Shivaji, the drought has meant drastic changes to the way in which they utilize their land.

It wasn’t long ago that Shivaji had a flourishing farm of six acres. He talks reflectively of a time when he produced sugarcane for market, making enough money to feed his family, and still have a surplus after harvest. The picture today could hardly be more different. At the start of the year Shivaji made the difficult decision to reduce his farm size to four acres with two devoted to black gram and two to cotton. With no rainfall for six months the two acres of black gram failed. All that now remains of this once prosperous farm is two acres of cotton. Without rain, the success of Shivaji’s harvest is all but impossible.

Together with his wife, Shivaji lives in the village of Pimparkhed, located about a 40 minutes’ drive away from Jamkhed. He and his wife have three daughters and one son. He tells me with great pride that his son is soon to become a block development office—not bad for a farmer’s boy from the village. Though the size of the family farm has reduced greatly, there remains much work to do, and without his children on hand to help, Shivaji and his wife – both in their late fifties – spend every day working for more than seven hours tending to their crops and doing all they can to halt the effects of drought. Such back-breaking work is a lot better than the alternative, though.

All across Maharashtra family farmers are giving up on their farms and looking for work as day labourers. The wages are low, the hours long, and the work tough. For a young man the work is bearable, but for a man in his late fifties, who has spent his life building up his own family farm, the prospect is grim.

Despite such grim prospects, the farmers I’ve met in Pimparkhed are incredibly resilient. When I ask Shivaji if he thinks the drought will continue he has no doubt that the monsoon rains will come. Time is running out, though. Wells in the area are close to running dry and for the past 12 months Shivaji and his neighbours have been relying almost entirely on water tankers for drinking water.  Such reliance is highly unsustainable and it is vital that organizations such as CRHP are on hand to deliver sustainable solutions to future drought.

Over the past 40 years CHRP has aimed to bring together communities, and through our Farmers’ Clubs, the burden of drought has been shared. Shivaji is an active member of the Pimparkhed Farmers’ Club and the training that he has received on alternative crops and different types of irrigation may well have saved his livelihood. Looking towards to the future, the importance of communities working together could hardly be greater. On CRHP’s Khadkat Farm we have recently installed a 21 million litre demonstration water container, and with our support, communities are already joining together to try and replicate the model in their respective villages.

There is little doubt that the three year drought has been devastating for farmers in Maharashtra. Livelihoods have been lost, but crucial lessons have been learnt. The most important lesson Shivaji taught me was about optimism. Indeed, with the right knowledge, preparation, and community togetherness, the prospects for the future are looking far brighter.

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