In Amravati division alone, area under cotton has almost halved, from 15 lakh hectares to 8.15 lakh hectares

Vinod Khade and his five brothers are among the big landowners in Vidarbha’s Yavatmal district.

They own 225 acres, which they used to plant with cotton. But this year, they have grown soyabean. Mr. Khade, who is also Sarpanch of Wadgaon Ghatge village, started growing soyabean a decade ago. “The rising cost of cotton cultivation, the poor price for cotton and labour problems made us think about another crop,” he says.

Mr. Khade’s family is not the only one that has switched from cotton to soyabean. Nearly 90 per cent of the villagers have followed their Sarpanch suit. Across Vidarbha, a region infamous for suicide by cotton farmers, many families are turning to soyabean. In the Amravati division — which includes the districts of Amravati, Washim, Akola, Buldhana and Yavatmal — the area under cotton has almost halved over the past five years, from 15 lakh hectares to 8.15 lakh hectares.

“In the same period, the area under soyabean has increased from 8 lakh hectares to 15.6 lakh hectares in the division,” says Ashok Lokhande, Amravati’s Joint Director of Agriculture.

In Yavatmal, which accounts for the highest number of suicides among farmers in Vidarbha, cotton has been replaced by soyabean on 88,000 hectares in the past one year. “In 2013, the area under cotton and soyabean is almost equal,” District Agriculture Officer D.I. Patil says.

Farmers say they cannot afford to grow cotton any more. “Cotton is not profitable even if the government gives [us] Rs.10,000 in minimum support price, because the production cost of Bt. cotton is very high. With soyabean, you can be sure of recovering at least production cost,” says Prem Rathod, a farmer of Ghatumba in Yavatmal.

Officials say soyabean takes less time to harvest than cotton, so farmers can think of growing a second crop in the same year.