Sugarcane farmers switch to flowers and soya bean

Due to unpredictable rain, groundwater depletion

Updated - April 03, 2016 04:55 am IST

Published - June 23, 2015 12:00 am IST - OSMANABAD:

Gerbera polyhouses are thriving in villages in Osmanabad.— Photo: Alok Deshpande

Gerbera polyhouses are thriving in villages in Osmanabad.— Photo: Alok Deshpande

For many years, farmers in Latur, Osmanabad and Solapur relied on water-intensive sugarcane, expecting huge profits. The unpredictable monsoons and the groundwater depletion have forced them to rethink their strategy and for the first time, the government, too, is encouraging them to look beyond sugarcane.

The government-sponsored ‘Beyond Sugarcane’ movement has gathered pace in the dry district of Osmanabad, with thousands of farmers taking to soya bean, tur and horticulture, and most importantly Gerbera. This campaign supplements the much-publicised ‘Jalyukta Shivar Abhiyan’ aimed at creating decentralised water sources.

“No matter how many water conservation programs are implemented here, the farmers will always face drought if changes are not made in the crop pattern and water use,” says Osmanabad Collector Prashant Narnavre. According to government data, every sugarcane farmer had dug three borewells in an acre of farm.

In a dry area like Osmanabad, which has three lakh hectares under cultivation, approximately 48,000 hectares had been under sugarcane till last year. This despite the fact that only six of the 15 sugar factories are operational, with only two making profit.

“Sugarcane had never been a viable option, and the district administration started educating the farmers,” says Mr. Narnavre. The immediate alternative was soya bean and tur, as they needed half the amount of water required.

The district administration brought 14,500 farmers under farming groups on the basis of crop choice. “At present, we have 220 polyhouses and produce 1.5 lakh flowers every day,” says District Agriculture Officer Shankar Totawar. Thanks to the sustained efforts in the past one year, the area under sugarcane cultivation has halved.

Solid income

The cut Gerbera flowers are sent to Delhi, Hyderabad, Banglore and Thailand and provide an income of around Rs. 1 lakh per acre every month. The success of the Gerbera cultivation here is reflected in the fact that two new varieties of the flower will be named after two villages of Osmanabad: Padola and Upla.

Sanjay Pawar of Padola is happy that he switched from sugarcane to Gerbera. “Tired of drought every year, 12 of us from this village decided to do something new. And today, we stand here with profit, without sugarcane,” he says.

Osmanabad is not the only district in the State which is actively “discouraging” farmers from growing sugarcane. Solapur which has over two lakh hectares under the cash crop, out of a total cultivable area of 11 lakh hectares, has also moved away.

“We cannot decrease the area under sugarcane but we can certainly control it,” says Solapur Collector Tukaram Mundhe. Mr. Mundhe says drip irrigation has been made compulsory for all sugarcane farmers if they want loans. “We are even planning to ask the sugar mills not to accept sugarcane unless it is from a certified drip-irrigated farm,” he says.

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