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Sweet Paradox: India’s Drought-Stricken Farmers plant the Thirstiest Crop ‘Sugarcane’

What makes the sugar cane plantation lucrative is its hardiness and the higher returns ensured by the state policies

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Sugarcane
Weighing of Sugarcanes in Sugar Mills. Wikimedia commons.
  • The plantation of sugarcane poses a threat to the usually arid zone and might plunge it back into drought
  • The increasing gap in income between the regular crop growers and the cane producers might lead to social unrest – warn experts
  • Indian government expects that a rise in subsidies for crops like oilseeds and common pulses will bring a change in the patterns of farming

Aurangabad, India, October 21, 2016: On the arrival of the very first nourishing monsoon showers in the drought-stricken zones of central India, farmers like Santosh Wagh hurried back to the plantations of sugarcane, the thirstiest crop; despite frequent appeals from the Indian government not to do so!

What makes the sugar cane plantation lucrative is its hardiness and the higher returns ensured by the state policies. These reasons lead the farmers to sow the crop despite the extreme water-demand of the cane relative to other crops. The plantation of sugarcane poses a threat to the usually arid zone and might plunge it back into drought, mentioned Reuters.

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Wagh, 31, hails from Marathwada and plants 1.5 acres (0.6 hectares) of sugar cane and she says “It is the only reliable crop. Earlier this year I cultivated onions and incurred a 50,000 rupees loss as prices crashed.”

According to Reuters, the largest sugar producing state in India, Maharashtra, suffered the most horrific drought 4 months ago as it damaged livestock devastating the crops and emptied reservoirs while slowing down the hydroelectric power output.

thirstiest crop
Sugarcane. Wikimedia

Compared to a commonly grown crop, chickpeas, consuming only 4 million litres of waters in its growing cycle; the cane consumes nearly 22.5 million litres and therefore the environmentalists and the government blamed the cane production for water scarcity.

According to Reuters, the increasing gap in income between the regular crop growers and the cane producers might lead to social unrest and the water scarcity will keep growing without the intervention of the government- warn experts.

Pradeep Purandare, a former professor at Maharashtra Water and Land Management Institute, said “The government asks farmers to shift to less water consuming crops, but it does little to support those crops. It failed to solve the problems of oilseed and pulses growers.”

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“Returns from other crops are unpredictable. This year it allowed 5 tonnes of onions to rot. Prices were so low that my losses would have increased by transporting onions to the market,” said an Aurangabad farmer, Suresh Kothawale.

“We are creating oilseeds and pulses as an alternative for sugar cane by raising their minimum support prices,” said a senior official at India’s Agriculture Ministry who declined to be named.

But the industry critics claim that pulse and oilseed MSP exists on paper only.

In Marathwada the sugar mill build-up was primarily initiated by the politicians in order to gain prosperity in multiple areas of Maharashtra, focusing on regions with plentiful water.

“But later politicians opened mills everywhere, even in areas where drinking water is not available, to build a constituency rather than making farmers rich,” said a political analyst, Jaidev Dole to Reuters.

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Cane can withstand dry spells, heavy rainfall, diseases and less vulnerable to pests; and thus attracts farmers to sow it more. “I had taken crop insurance for pulses last year, but didn’t get compensation despite losing an entire crop,” said Sharad Mate, a farmer from Sillod, Aurangabad.

Indian government expects that a rise in subsidies for crops like oilseeds and common pulses will bring a change in the patterns of farming.

– prepared by Antara Kumar of NewsGram. Twitter: @ElaanaC

Next Story

Indian Government Spent Nearly Rs 4Kcr on Swachh Bharat Info, Education

“The Swachh Bharat mission can serve as a model for other countries around the world that urgently need to improve access to sanitation for the world’s poorest."

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swachhata abhiyan
The government's much publicised Swachh Bharat Mission -- which aims to enhance the level of sanitation in India and make the country open defecation free (ODF). Flickr

To make the Swachh Bharat Mission a success, India mobilised huge resources for information, education and communication (IEC) activities, with a new report estimating that the cash expenditure by the government, private sector, and the development community to be between Rs 3,500-4,000 crore in five years since the programme’s launch.

Of this cash spend, around 20 per cent was spent by the erstwhile Union Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, around 35 per cent by the state sanitation departments, around 25 per cent by other government ministries, and around 20 per cent by the private sector and the development sector collectively, said the report by consultancy firm Dalberg Advisors.

Under the Swachh Bharat Mission, the government has shown remarkable ability to leverage resources across the public sector, private sector, media, and civil society, to make sanitation a mass movement in India.

In fact, the study estimates that the Swachh Bharat Mission mobilised a spend equivalent worth Rs 22,000-Rs 26,000 crore in monetary and non-monetary information, education and communication activities.

The researchers reached this figure by identifying the key activities and costs by different actors, modelling the number of “exposures” created, and estimating the investment required if the government were to “buy” these exposures in an efficient market.

An average person living in rural India was exposed to between 2,500-3,300 SBM related messages over the last five years, according to the study titled “An assessment of the reach and value of IEC activities under Swachh Bharat Mission (Grameen)”.

Young Indians
Young Indians want to strengthen the ‘Swachh Bharat’ initiative. Wikimedia Commons

A large majority of these messages were routed via newly constructed toilets, mass media, and the

Swachh Bharat logo. Other significant contributors included ambient media such as wall murals and hoardings, and other conventional channels such as inter-personal communication (IPC), digital media, and cinema.

Since the launch of the Swachh Bharat Mission on October 2, 2014, over 10 crore households toilets have been built in the country, leading to a significant improvement in sanitation coverage and reduction in open defecation.

Since 2014, engagement from the top political and government leadership, especially the Prime Minister, induced catalytic participation across segments, giving the cause of sanitation consistent attention and focus.

This translated into a mission mode approach where a range of government ministries, private sector organisations, the philanthropic ecosystem, civil society, and the media and entertainment sector participated to bring sanitation messaging and awareness to citizens at significant scale.

Also Read: Motorola Launches its First Smart TV in India

When Modi visits the US later this month, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will honour the success of Swachh Bharat that has transformed lives around the country.

“Globally, sanitation-related diseases kill nearly 500,000 children under the age of five every year. Yet despite its importance, sanitation has not received significant attention. A lot of governments are not willing to talk about it, in part because there are not easy solutions.

Before the Swachh Bharat mission, over 500 million people in India did not have access to safe sanitation, and now, the majority do. There is still a long way to go, but the impacts of access to sanitation in India are already being realised,” the Gates Foundation said in a statement.

“The Swachh Bharat mission can serve as a model for other countries around the world that urgently need to improve access to sanitation for the world’s poorest.” (IANS)