Droughts: A Story of Maharashtra

In the Indian state of Maharashtra, water is the most precious resource, and it is also the most elusive. Maharashtra is plagued by years of drought periodically interrupted by seasons of heavy rains and flooding; known as wet droughts. These two extremes represent the most serious hinderances to farmers in the region as they account for massive crop losses each year. These trends directly contribute to the startling rates of farmer suicides in Maharashtra; the highest in all of India.

In 2019, uncharacteristically high rainfall late in the harvest season caused a myriad of problems for farmers across the state. An estimated 7 million hectares worth of crops have been lost as of early November.[1] The late timing of the rain and high winds ruined crops such as sorghum and onions in the fields prior to harvest, while crops awaiting market were destroyed before they could be transported. Some of these crops were repurposed for livestock feed, but financial losses were significant nonetheless. While government aid for crop losses is available, the majority of small-scale farmers do not reach the necessary requirements to benefit from these programs. Private insurance companies are widely used by farmers who can afford to do so in Maharashtra, with many paying monthly premiums towards crop loss policies. Unfortunately, the majority of claims are denied on technicalities often beyond the control of the farmers themselves.[2]Associated debt forces farmers to sell off their livestock and property and increases seasonal migration.

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CRHP has been working to promote sustainable farming practices in and around Jamkhed for nearly 50 years through various domestic partnerships. With a focus on vermiculture, horticulture, organic farming, agroforestry, and soil stabilization techniques, CRHP has helped farmers mitigate the effects of wet droughts over time. These techniques focus on fortifying the land in natural ways that can not only withstand the harsh changes in rainfall, but also improve soil conditions over time.

In regard to dry droughts, CRHP has worked with communities to establish watershed systems and implement other water conservation schemes such as continuous contour trenches. These projects take advantage of the extreme weather patterns on the high arid plains of Maharashtra. They are built to maximize water collection in times of wet drought and conserve it to farm through times of dry drought. While these rains had considerable losses for this year’s harvest, the long-term effects will hopefully make up for the damage of this season. Watershed systems have been replenished, the water table has risen, and overall soil quality has been improved as a result of the rains.

The rain patterns of Maharashtra are an inevitable part of life for farmers in the region. CRHP continues to promote agricultural practices and programs that mitigate these extremes so that farmers, their families, and communities can hope for stability in the future. It is the belief of CRHP that health is more than the absence of illness, it is the fundamental well-being in every aspect of one’s life. Farming is the backbone of the economy in Maharashtra and programs that benefit this industry directly improve the health of entire villages state-wide.

[1] Ashwin Aghor, “Unseasonal Maharashtra rains damage crops on 7 million hectares: Govt,” Down to Earth, 8 November, 2019.https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/agriculture/unseasonal-maharashtra-rains-damage-crops-on-7-million-hectares-govt-67674

[2] Press Trust of India, “How can 90 lakh Maharashtra farmers be ineligible for PM crop insurance, asks Uddhav Thackeray,” India Today, 23 August 2019. https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/90-lakh-maharashtra-farmers-ineligible-pm-crop-insurance-uddhav-thackeray-1590923-2019-08-23

 

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