In Poll-Bound Madhya Pradesh, Sugarcane Farmers are Angry
Madhya Pradesh received the highest rainfall in the country in September which flattened the sugarcane fields with farmers reportedly losing half their crop. Pest infestations are an added woe.
Pooja Yadav 10 Oct 2023 10:32 AM GMT
Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh
Madhya Pradesh in central India will have its assembly polls in a month from now, on November 17. And the heavy rainfall the state received last month, in September, may add to the worries of the government as a large number of sugarcane farmers in the state have lost their standing crops and suffered heavy losses.
Acres and acres of sugarcane fields in Madhya Pradesh look battle ravaged. Barely any sugarcane stalk stands tall, most of them lie on their sides, uprooted and rotting slowly. Rats make short work of those that are still standing.
Hariom Agarwal, a farmer from Teentgaon in Nepanagar tehsil in Burhanpur district, has been cultivating sugarcane for 15 years now. “I had sugarcane on 15 acres of land and the crop in 12 acres was destroyed. The intense rainfall in September caused some damage but it was the strong winds following the rains that completely destroyed the standing crop,” he told Gaon Connection (1 acre = 0.4 hectare).
“I have spent Rs 25,000 per acre of my sugarcane and what should have been a 400-quintal output will be no more than 200 quintals, that is if I am lucky,” he added (1 quintal = 100 kilogram). The farmer complained that so far no one from the administration had come to assess the loss, nor was there any talk of compensation.
“Compensation should have been declared before the code of conduct came into effect. Farmers had hoped that the government would at least make an announcement about compensation, but unfortunately this has not happened. This will have repercussions in the elections and the farmers will not forget,” Surendra Rajput, member of Bharatiya Kisan Union, Narmadapuram, told Gaon Connection.
On September 22 last month, farmers from Khargone staged a protest demanding compensation for the damaged sugarcane crop.
Kamal Patel, the state agriculture minister, advised the farmers to put in an application for compensation and assured them that the needful would be done. But so far there has been no progress on the matter, complain farmers.
An year of farming woes
This year has been a difficult year for farmers. Things have been dodgy since June, when the southwest monsoon arrived late and expected rainfall did not occur. The following month in July there was some rainfall that brought some relief.
But August this year was hot and recorded one of the lowest rainfall ever. In the drought-like conditions, the sugarcane, which is a highly water intensive cash crop, began to wilt and dry. Farmers had to irrigate their lands with the help of water pumps (groundwater) to keep their crops alive.
But, the torrential rains in September, followed by high speed winds, laid low the crops in several districts including Narsinghpur, Chhindwara, Burhanpur, Betul, and Datia.
According to India Meteorological Department (IMD), Madhya Pradesh received a ‘large excess’ rainfall of 70 per cent in the month of September, the only state in the country to receive such heavy rainfall. As against its normal rainfall of 166.9 millimetre, it received 284. 2 mm rainfall between September 1 and September 30 (see map below).
Map: State-wise monthly rainfall in September 2023
“This is the first time rains have damaged the sugarcane crop like this,” Mukesh Patel, a farmer from Imaliya village in Narsinghpur, told Gaon Connection. His district received 46 per cent excess rainfall in September. Patel lost three out of his five acres of sugarcane.
It is the same story with the neighbouring farmers too, he said. “It rained so hard that for nearly eight days there was waterlogging that turned the fields into a quagmire. The strong winds made the damage worse,” he said.
“Had there been a pest infestation, I could have saved my crops by using pesticides and medicines, but I can’t make my fallen crops stand upright again,” the farmer lamented.
The rain and winds have brought along with them other problems too.
“The uprooted and broken sugarcane stalks are rotting and that is attracting wild boars that are then eating up the few intact sugarcane there is on the field,” Shiva Rajput from Kareli village in Narsinghpur, told Gaon Connection.
Mahesh Yadav of Barsali village in Betul district has similar complaints. His district received 102 per cent excess rainfall last month.
“I planted sugarcane in five acres and more than half of it has gone. It is time to irrigate my land and it is going to be very difficult with the fallen sugarcane covering it,” the farmer said. He was hoping to get about 350 quintals from his crop but now despairs if he will even get half of that.
There are also fears of the smut disease in the sugarcane crop, which causes growth of fungus on the stalks.
“There is also a caterpillar infestation on the top of the sugarcane plant that is eating up the leaves and stalks,” Yadav feared.
Rising sugarcane cultivation in MP
The area under sugarcane cultivation in Madhya Pradesh has been steadily increasing. In 2007-08, there were 77,730 hectares of sugarcane fields in the state. By 2013-14, the area rose to 144,000 hectares. At present, nearly 200,000 hectares of land in the central Indian state is under cane cultivation.
Sugarcane is considered to be a resilient crop that can withstand considerable vagaries of weather and is less prone to disease. It is a lot more profitable than maize, soybean, pulses, paddy, wheat, claim farmers. But this year seems to be a bad year for the sugarcane farmers in Madhya Pradesh.
BK Sharma, the senior scientist and in charge of the sugarcane research centre in Bihoni, Narasinghpur district, admitted there had been considerable damage to the sugarcane crops in the state.
“The farmers must drain their fields of water in time. Their plants should be in neat rows allowing the wind to flow through the rows without obstruction. They should also tie the sugarcane stalks firmly together and ensure they have sowed the seeds deep,” Sharma told Gaon Connection.
“There is news of the crops also being affected by smut disease and red root disease, and using pesticides is the only option now,” the senior scientist added.
Meanwhile, farmers complain so far they have not heard from the government agencies regarding assessment of their crop losses and compensation.
Dayaram Avasya, the tehsildar of Nepanagar tehsil in Burhanpur district, told Gaon Connection, “The damage incurred by sugarcane farmers in this district will be assessed and they will be compensated accordingly”.