Free Press Journal

Farmers cling onto trees in vain


Dongargaon, Aurangabad :  On the outskirts of Dongargaon, in the heart of Aurangabad’s Mosambi belt, this correspondent was witness to a rare sight — four deer nosing around abandoned fields. Normally, wild animals do not venture into a fully cultivated area. But the scarcity of water in the countryside has brought these graceful animals all the way from a secluded wooded area in the nearby Jalna district, 40 km away.

In a good monsoon year, the kuccha road to Dongargaon would have been adorned by lush green orchards of sweet lime fed by the thin black pipes of drip irrigation system. But this year, it is a bone-dry ploughed earth dotted with browning stands of sweet lime trees. These escort us all the way to the village which in the last decade has seen much prosperity. The streets are paved, houses are mostly concrete with tin roofs and electrified. Outside each house is a big plastic drum which will be filled to the brim when the tanker comes. The drip irrigation pipes have been rolled up and dangle on the trees, awaiting the rain.

Dongargaon is a fairly large village of 250 families, most of whom are owners of sweet lime orchards. Some farmers have in the recent years shifted to cultivating pomegranate trees which are much more hardy, and can last for a couple of seasons on less water.

In 2012, the village had 200 acres under mosambi, this year barely 25 acres. “This will also go next year,” says Babasaheb Ghanghao who owns about 220 mosambi trees. “Every year since 2012, this is the situation – there is no water and we lose the crop. The government doesn’t help us.”

Adds Vishambar Ghanghao, “If it hadn’t rained for those two days (on September 17, 2015, it rained 220 mm in two days, out of the total 350mm rainfall received by the area last monsoon) we would have been worse off with absolutely no water.” Ghanghao has 500 trees and is trying to save them by tapping two tankers of 12,000 litres, daily. “As long as I have the money, I will get water, then, I will have to let them go,” says the diminutive farmer. He has a small farm pond which holds this water; pipes are laid out, ready to pump the precious liquid once electricity returns. Villages in the region face 16-hour load shedding as well.

Others like Babasaheb and Bhaskar Ghanghao have already let their trees go. Bhaskar has 1000 of sweet lime trees, mostly laden with fruits. The trees are now starting to wilt for lack of water. He hasn’t been able to water them for several weeks, now.

And, all this, despite the huge community farm pond, which the farmers built some years ago: In the last three years of scanty rainfall, the plastic sheet with which the pond is lined to prevent water seepage has developed holes and the farmers are wary of spending any money on replacing it, in the face of an uncertain monsoon.

 Between 2003 and 2008, the village also undertook a lot of watershed works such as building bunds along the farms to hold the water back, constructing cement weirs, earthen dams, etc. But none of these measures help when it has not rained properly for three years in a row. Ground water that used to be available at 10-15 ft, is now well below 60-70 ft.

Points out Prasanna Patil, director of the Savitribai Phule Mahila Ekatma Samaj Mandal (SPMESM), “In the past decade farmers in the area have got into water intense crops, such as fruits, BT Cotton, wheat, maize, soya bean as they get far better returns on these. But they have neglected to replenish their water sources.” SPMESM is working in several of the villages in the area on watershed works such as de-silting streams and rivers, building earthen dams and bunds to hold back the rain water from running amok.  Umakant Dangat, Divisional Commissioner, Aurangabad revenue division, points out that the year has been a triple whammy for farmers.  “This year there is a metrological, hydrological and agricultural drought. Rainfall has been erratic and temperatures have risen on account of climate change, groundwater has depleted. As a result, agricultural productivity has fallen.”

Dangat says that 100% of the villages are affected by the drought, with 70% crop loss being declared across the eight districts of Aurangabad, Usmanabad, Jalna, Parbhani, Latur, Beed, Hingoli and Nanded that comprise the division. A grant worth Rs 2000 crore to 36 lakh farmers in the division has been declared.  The dams in the region have 3-4% water, barely enough for drinking needs.

Not much of this relief money seems to have reached the farmers. Around 50 families have already left the village, mainly landless labour. Babasaheb Ghanghao says that the next lot to leave the land may as well as be smaller farmers like himself: Especially, if it doesn’t rain again this year.