Parched Maharashtra

Maharashtra may have been reeling under the fourth consecutive and the worst drought, but a water guzzling cash crop like sugarcane has seen 1 lakh hectare rise in area under cultivation, while there has been a steep fall in the area of major crops like wheat, pulses, oilseeds, jowar, bajra and coarse grains. The final data released by the agriculture department shows that area under sugarcane cultivation in 2015-16 was 9.87 lakh hectare as against an average estimate of 8.86 lakh hectare. Farmers in Marathwada, one of the worst-affected areas in the state, grew close to 2.4 lakh hectare of sugarcane. This area also boasts of 61 sugar mills.
The trend has been similar for the past three years when the actual area under sugarcane cultivation has been higher than the estimated area. In 2014-15, the estimated area was to be 8.93 lakh hectare, while 9.87 lakh hectare was actually cultivated. In 2013-14, 9.38 lakh hectare was the estimate, while the actual area was 10.48 lakh hectare. Experts have been demanding the government discourage large scale cultivation of water-guzzling crops like sugarcane and promote less water consuming and hardy crops.
Area under wheat reduced to 6.29 lakh hectare as against the estimate average of 11.79 lakh hectare, while jowar and bajra was 23.55 lakh hectare and 6.39 lakh hectares, respectively , as against the average estimate of 30.9 lakh hectare and 11.34 lakh hectare. Experts say that the water used for 1 hectare of sugarcane can irrigate over 8 hectare of the rabi crop, jowar. While the productivity of sugarcane was 75 kg per hectare, the productivity of jowar was 443 kg per hectare.
“Sugarcane cultivation shouldn't be encouraged in arid regions. Sugarcane occupies 5% of the state's land but commands 60% of its irrigation water,“ said an official.
Area under pulses, too, has drastically fallen. Officials say that the huge market fluctuation in the cost of pulses is one of the major reasons for the drop in its cultivation. The area under urad, toor and moong has also fallen by over 4 lakh hectare. The total estimated average for these three crops was 21.08 lakh hectare, but the actual area was 17.04 lakh hectare.
“The crop pattern in the state needs a re-look. Farmers in the state are still taking crops that have been cultivated in their fields for years together, despite the water availability and market situation changing.The state government needs to put in efforts into getting farmers to change their crop based on the current market trends and demands and water availability,“ said an expert.

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