Report on curbing cane farming in parched Marathawada to be submitted to Maharashtra CM

Farmers in Maharashtra’s Marathwada region need to be weaned away from water-intensive crops such as sugarcane because of recurring droughts and water scarcity, a state government official has said in a draft report, reports Financial Express.

Aurangabad divisional commissioner Sunil Kendrekar told Financial Express that he is giving final touches to a report on measures to save water in the region and plans to present it to chief minister Devendra Fadnavis next week. Underlining the need for farmers to shift to other crops such as oilseeds and soybean, Kendrekar said excessive cultivation of sugarcane is also causing soil salinity.

This has evoked criticism from sugar millers who see the proposed curbs on crop selection as a violation of farmers’ fundamental rights. Opposing suggestions on imposition of curbs on cane farming in Marathwada, Western India Sugar Mills Association president BB Thombare said preventing farmers from cultivating cane would be against their fundamental right to decide the crop they wish to cultivate.

Suggesting micro irrigation and incentives for farmers who adopt water saving techniques, he said the government can restrict the amount of water to be released from dams for crops like sugarcane but a blanket ban on cane will not work.

The Marathwada region has had a deficient monsoon, with all eight districts receiving 12-43% less than average rainfall for this time of the year. The region has around 54 sugar factories and cane is grown by nearly 1.25 lakh farmers in 2.84 lakh hectare during 2018-19, while the total acreage in Maharashtra stood at 11.62 lakh hectare.

Kendrakar’s draft report pointed out that cane yield in the Marathwada region is extremely poor at 15-20 tonnes per hectare. In the eight districts of Marathwada, on an average, one tonne sugarcane crop requires about 70,000 litres of water.

The Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP), in its earlier reports, observed that Maharashtra sugarcane cultivation, which takes place in less than 4 per cent of the total cropped area, takes away almost 70 per cent of the state’s irrigation water. Farmers have switched to cane because of income guarantee due to the presence of a large number of factories in the region.  

Shekhar Ghosh is a communications consultant and and former journalist, who has edited and written for publications such as like Business India, Business Standard, Business Today and Outlook.

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