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  • Jun 07 / 2014
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Half of Yavatmal’s soil not meant for cotton: study

Date:Jun 3, 2014

District known for farmers’ suicides has shallow soil depth which has very little capacity to retain water; report recommends switch to traditional millets, oilseeds

GM cotton has proved to be a grim experience for farmers as erratic rains and high costs of cultivation have resulted in poor returns. This appears to be a prime cause of the wave of farmer suicides that have touched nearly 9,000 since 2005GM cotton has proved to be a grim experience for farmers as erratic rains and high costs of cultivation have resulted in poor returns. This appears to be a prime cause of the wave of farmer suicides that have touched nearly 9,000 since 2005 (Photo by Amit Shanker)

Around half of the soil in Yavatmal district of Maharashtra, known both for suicides and for Bt cotton, is unsuitable for cotton cultivation, says a recent report from the National Bureau of Soil Survey and Land Use Planning (NBSS & LUP) at Nagpur. The report, based on a soil survey conducted in the troubled district about two years ago, recommends a switch to traditional millet and oil-seed crop pattern for farmers in the shallow soil belt of the district.

Bt cotton particularly unsuitable

Speaking to Down To Earth, NBSS & LUP director, S K Singh, said that the survey has found that more than 40 per cent of the soil in Yavatmal is medium shallow, that is, having a less than 50 cm depth. Such soil, he said, is not suitable for cotton cultivation, as it has very low water retention capacity. “Even the slightest water stress causes crop failure in such soil,” said Singh, adding that even under best management, yields remain low. Bt cotton, which is based on American cotton hybrids, is particularly unsuitable for this region, since it has a higher water demand than Indian cotton varieties, he said.

Return to traditional crops

Singh said the best crop options for the shallow-soil areas in Yavatmal district are sorghum and maize in the kharif season, and oil-seeds like linseed in the rabi season. If there is facility for protective irrigation, chick-pea crop can also be grown during rabi. As for cash crops, he said, the best option in these soils is onion, which has low water demand.

“Our experiments in Dhule district, which has soil and climatic conditions similar to the drought-prone parts of Yavatmal district show that onion can be an excellent cash-crop option because it grows well in shallow soils,” he said. Indian cotton varieties can also be cultivated in a small way, he said.

Activists slam poor crop planning

The report s a scientific confirmation of facts that have been known for quite some time. The Planning Commission study team for farmer suicides has pointed out this fact, and even slammed government for not undertaking proper crop planning. G V Ramanjaneyulu, former ICAR scientist, who heads Hyderabad based non-profit Centre For Sustainable Agriculture, said most of the suicides among cotton farmers have been reported from Vidarbha and Telengana, and it is no secret that the reason is the mismatch between soil type and the requirements of Bt cotton.

“We have repeatedly complained of government apathy towards proper crop planning keeping in view soil type,” he said. “There is no coordination between government departments and various scientific organisations, and there is a general lack of concern in the area of crop planning. Seed companies have taken the opportunity to promote the seeds which give them the most profit at a terrible cost to the farming community.”

It is a simple enough affair to regulate the amount of cotton being grown in a district, Ramanjaneyulu said. “State department can put a limit on the number of seed packets to be sold. The extension section of the department can run awareness campaigns to help farmers choose the right crops, but none of these has ever been done,” he rued.

  • Mar 01 / 2012
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Climate change threat to food produce in India, says study

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Date:Mar 1, 2012

‘Erratic rainfall and rising input costs forcing farmers to migrate’

“Unable to clear a loan of Rs 2 lakh, my son committed suicide. I had to sell my ancestral house and cattle to repay the loan,” says Lakshmi Devi, 48, of Pathakotha Cheruvu village in Andhra Pradesh’s Anantapur district. Devi’s woes did not end with the repayment of loan. Managing her farm is becoming increasingly difficult, partly because it is expensive, and mostly because of the  unpredictable weather. Changes in rainfall pattern have increased pest-related problems, especially during the flowering season, she says. Many, like her, are facing similar problems: erratic rainfall pattern affecting yield, pests and related diseases on the rise; and losses staring them in the face. Many farmers, like Devi’s younger son, choose to migrate.

Lakhsmi Devi, who grows groundnut on her 2.4 hectares, was one of the thousand farmers ActionAid India and Centre for Sustainable Agriculture in Hyderabad spoke to, for their study on climate change and agriculture. The study, carried out in 15 villages in three states, reiterates that a quarter of agricultural produce is under threat from climate change and that the small and marginal farmers would be impacted the most (see box: Study findings).

Most villagers in the districts under study complained of shift in the intensity and distribution of rainfall. “The rains are so scattered that at times it rains in the village, but the fields remain dry. The rainfall pattern was not like this 10-15 years ago,” said Birendra Sahariya, 40-year-old farmer from Sipri village of Lalitpur district.

G V Ramanjaneyulu of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture says the study did not find much variation in rainfall at the district level, but found the distribution of rainfall had changed vastly. “People resort to migration because there is little else they can do,” Ramanjaneyulu adds.

Early flowering of mango and mahua, an important non-timber forest produce, has also been seen in Odisha, says Ranjan Panda, convenor of Water Initiatives, which focuses on water and climate change links in Odisha. “Western Odisha is increasingly experiencing desert-like climate; the day time temperatures are increasing and the night-temperatures are decreasing,” says Panda. Referring to the study, he adds that more such studies are required to develop an in-depth understanding of how climate change impacts agriculture.

Farmers are also grappling with increasing input costs with respect to agriculture. In Anantapur district alone, cost of production has increased by 500 per cent in the past 10 years, whereas prices increased by 25 per cent. The study also notes that after manufacturers were given a free hand to fix the price, the cost of fertilisers, except urea, increased by more than 300 per cent. Despite this, there is an increased dependence on chemical fertilisers to meet soil fertility needs. “There is an urgent need to revisit agricultural practices,” says Kishor Tiwari of Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti in Nagpur.

Study findings

The study, by ActionAid India and Centre for Sustainable Agriculture in Hyderabad, covered five villages each in the districts of Lalitpur in Uttar Pradesh, Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh and Bolangir in Odisha. About a thousand farmers were interviewed from the 15 villages and some common impacts were found in all the three states.

These include changes in the distribution of rainfall, delayed monsoon, increase in pests as well as migration. In Anantapur district, for instance, the first monsoon showers would arrive by early June; now they arrive end of July. This has altered cropping pattern and has given rise to new forms of pests and diseases in the past five to six years. Also, farmers observed that the groundwater table in the district had declined by 30 to 90 metre in the past 10 years.

In Odisha, after the introduction of Bt cotton in 2005 in the water-deficit region, mono-cropping increased which led to losses and farmers resorted to migration. In Lalitpur, traditional crops and seeds had disappeared altogether from the villages. Also, rainfall in 20 of the past 28 years was less than the average rainfall of 1,044mm, with 2005 and 2008 being the exceptions, the study noted.

Farmers said that during the 80s, dew/fog was common in November and December. This was helpful in ripening of the crops such as pulses and mustard. But dew has not been there for the past 15-20 years and crops mature early and grains remain undeveloped.