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Rural Distress: Back-to-back drought adds to the woes

The well-irrigated states of Punjab, Haryana, Karnataka, western Uttar Pradesh and coastal states such as Odisha are, for the first time, feeling the effects of a poor monsoon

Sahil Makkar Sanjeeb Mukherjee & Nirmalya Behera  |  Bhopal/ New Delhi/ Bhubaneshwar 

Rurak Distress: Back-to-back drought adds to the woes

Farmers are faced with a multitude of problems. Cotton and basmati rice growers in Punjab and sugarcane farmers in west UP are under stress due to the non-payment of insurance and state compensation. Growers in Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra are also hit by consecutive monsoon failures. In the last of a two-part series, Business Standard looks at how irrigated states are also feeling the pinch

This year's story of a failed monsoon has moved beyond Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, and the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh, which have been perennially drought-stricken.

The well-irrigated states of Punjab, Haryana, Karnataka, western Uttar Pradesh and coastal states such as Odisha are, for the first time, feeling the effects of a poor monsoon.

In Odisha, deaths due to poor monsoon were a rare phenomenon. Now, around 90 farmers have allegedly committed suicide in the past two to three months owing to stress. Crop loans and scanty rainfall have damaged the lives of the growers in the state. As small and marginal farmers are deprived of institutional credit, they are forced to take loans from private money lenders.

During 2015, kharif crops have been severely impacted in large parts of Odisha due to inadequate rainfall in July-August 2015 and 882,000 hectare of cropped area have suffered damage to the extent of 33 per cent. As many as 173 blocks in 25 districts have been affected. The wayward monsoon took a toll on the water levels at the major reservoirs in the state.

"Water levels at key reservoirs have dropped by about 20 per cent compared to last year," says an official of the water resources department.

Across India, the problem of falling groundwater is well on its way to becoming one of the 21st century's defining crises. It has also added to the woes of farmers in Bihar, where agriculture continues to be the primary source of income.

"The entire crop has gone waste as the water level has dipped, following two back-to-back years of deficient monsoon. I'm using paddy for fodder now. There is nothing I can do about it," says Mohammed Israel of Maranga village in Purnea district of Bihar.

Most of the 1,300 families in the village have suffered similar losses. Now they are pinning their hopes on maize crop, but with the price of maize ruling at 2013 level, the farmers in the area do not expect much out of it as well.

Ashok Gulati, chair professor for agriculture at ICRIER, blames back-to-back drought, a rare phenomenon that has occurred only four times in the past 115 years. "Rural distress is deepening. It has broken the back of the farmers. The government, including bureaucrats, should switch from dormant mode to pro-active mode and come out with a revamped insurance scheme," says Gulati.

On the contrary, the Union and the state governments have begun a blame game. Though the Centre claimed it had increased the number of employment days under the rural employment guarantee scheme and declared a subsidy on seeds, horticulture crops and fodder, it blames some states for the delay.

"Seven states have declared drought in over 200 districts, but, not all have sent their memorandums for relief, we urge them to send their details so that relief can be provided to farmers as soon as possible," said agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh.

Thus far, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh have declared drought in 27, 25, 27, 21, 21 and 50 districts, respectively.

In areas where farmers managed to cope with the drought, the falling prices and pests such as whiteflies - which can also be attributed to dry, hot weather - have put pressure on distress.

In Punjab, cotton growers suffered huge losses as 40 per cent of their standing kharif crop was ravaged by the whitefly, which destroyed acres in a matter of few days.

Such was the enormity of the attack that yields are expected to fall by half in 2015. Punjab, where 80 per cent of the arable land is irrigated, had to bear the brunt of sudden increase in temperatures in this monsoon season and extended dry period.

The north-western parts of the country, which includes Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, had received the least amount of rainfall, at 83 per cent of the long-period average in the 2015 southwest monsoon season.

To make matters worse, the weather after the monsoon and in the early winter, has been devoid of any moisture. This could impact the coming rabi winter harvest as well.

Basmati rice, one of the main crops grown in Punjab, is hit by a dip in global commodity rates. Such has been the fall in prices that farmers are being forced to sell this high-value rice at rates comparable to those of rice being sold through ration shops. "Compared to last year's average price of Rs 2,500 a quintal, the farmers are getting Rs 1,400-1,500 a quintal (on an average)," said Gurmeet Singh, a farmer from Mohali district of Punjab.

In Andhra Pradesh, the familiar tale of rural distress plagues tobacco farmers due to a drop in retail prices. Farmers there, had produced 172 million kg of flue-cured Virginia, or FCV tobacco in 2014-15, of which only 142 million kg have been sold thus far, as cigarette manufacturers have lowered their annual purchases.

In neighbouring Kerala, tapping of rubber had been stopped in the middle of the season in most big plantations as rubber prices crashed, both in the domestic and global markets.

STATES BOGGED AND HOW

  • Kharif crops have been severely impacted in large parts of Odisha due to inadequate rainfall and 33% of 882,000 hectare of cropped area have suffered damage
  • In Punjab, cotton growers suffered huge losses as 40% of their standing kharif crop was ravaged by whiteflies
  • The north-western parts of the country, which includes Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, had received the least amount of rainfall
  • In Andhra Pradesh, rural distress plagues tobacco farmers due to a drop in retail prices. Farmers there, had produced 172 million kg of flue-cured Virginia tobacco in 2014-15, of which only 142 million kg have been sold thus far
  • In Kerala, tapping of rubber has been stopped in the middle of the season in most big plantations as rubber prices crashed both in the domestic and global markets

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First Published: Wed, November 25 2015. 00:03 IST
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