International report

In times of agrarian distress, a new lease of life for Maharashtra farmers

Audio 09:37
Mahadeva Gomare looking at the Manjara River which has been revived and is now the lifeline for thousands of farmers.
Mahadeva Gomare looking at the Manjara River which has been revived and is now the lifeline for thousands of farmers. © Murali Krishnan

Thanks to imaginative cultivation methods, farmers in the western Indian state of Maharashtra have turned the corner after facing water scarcity and severe drought over the years.

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Latur, one of the largest districts in the Marathawada region, has been perennially drought-prone, notorious for its water scarcity and at one point, for farmer suicides.

Five years ago, water trains were regularly ferried here by the Indian Railways in view of the water crises which scarred the face of the region’s agriculture. Police security was provided to water tankers and, reservoirs.

But things have changed along the 143-kms of the Manjara River, Latur’s lifeline, which provides water to around 500,000 people in 900 villages.

A few years back, with the help of a committed band of villagers led by agriculturist, Mahadeva Gomare, the river and several of its tributaries have been rejuventated.

“Once the rivers were revived, it increased the availability of water, and other initiatives to improve the biodiversity and ecology of the area were started,” Gomare, the chief coordinator of the project told RFI.

With technical help and support from the Art of Living (AOL), which has expertise in river rejuvenation, desilting drains, gabion structures, sort of makeshift dams, and arresting rain water in rivers and rivulets were taken up. AOL has helped in bringing back stability to the region.

One of the farmers in Latur who is hoping for a good harvest.
One of the farmers in Latur who is hoping for a good harvest. © Murali Krishnan

“There has been no looking back for a huge swathe of the 150,000 farmers living here. This was the beginning with the farming community gradually moving to natural farming, afforestation, agroforestry, social forestry and climate resilient farming and seeding practices to green the area and help increase their farm produce,” adds Gomare.

Entire village ecosystems were positively impacted because of greater water availability and consequent socio-economic benefits. The changes showed a dramatic transformation in the lives of farmers.

“It has taken time. But our labor has paid off and now we see a smile on many farmers' faces,” Kaka Sehab Sindi, a farmer told RFI.

Krishna Narode, 26, from Gangapur village, is excited that his four-acre farm which has an array of crops and fruits including papaya, sugar cane, wheat and ginger will bring in a bumper harvest.

In a few months it will be time for harvesting and Narode knows that his efforts will pay dividends as he has relied on farming practices utilising the natural intelligence of the soil and a good seed system.

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“I hope to earn at least Rs 600,000 (6765 Euros) this year from my harvest. In 2016, I earned such a small sum and wanted to give up. But thanks to new methods we have learnt, it is helping our community,” Narode tells RFI.

Over 900,000 cubic meters of silt was removed from the river, giving it a new life. The silt in turn was used in the fields to help level adjoining farms where sharecropping was taken up.

Much of the farming practices in the Marathwada region now rely on utilising natural soil and seed systems, thus saving on input costs, without compromising on the yield.

This has become valuable for minimal and marginal farmers who are financially burdened already.

Instead of relying on the government for help, farmers in Marathwada have introduced changes in crop management thus improving food security. It is being scaled up by thousands of farmers.

This has helped them increase food crop yields with lower cost and input requirements as well as more resilience to adverse effects of climate change.

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