Farmers in Uttar Pradesh crushed by drought and drowning fields
Deficient monsoon rainfall has affected millions of farmers across 65 districts in Uttar Pradesh. While they are demanding an official declaration of drought, farmers from at least 18 other districts in the state were hit by floods leading to further crop losses. The state government has announced a drought survey and also flood relief. But farmers say it is too little, too late.
Ankit Rathore 14 Sep 2022 2:10 PM GMT
This year's monsoon has been a double whammy for the over 23.32 million farmers in Uttar Pradesh who have been swinging between drought and floods. Only two more weeks of the southwest monsoon season are left and the country's most populous state has a rainfall deficit of minus 46 per cent.
But, drought isn't the only worry for the state's farming sector that employs 65 per cent of the state's total population. About 18 districts of the state have also witnessed floods, which have caused both crop and property losses.
Rajendra Prasad, a paddy farmer from Varanasi district, has been helplessly watching the paddy crop drying and wilting on his two bighas [half an hectare] of land in Birbhanpur village.
"Farmers are dying and there is no one who cares about it. I transplanted the saplings with water from a tubewell on my land, but I will need more water every third and fifth day to keep the saplings alive," Prasad told Gaon Connection.
"Irrigation is an expensive affair. To irrigate one bigha of land requires three hours of back breaking labour and each hour of labour costs seventy rupees. Where is so much money for us to spend on irrigating our fields every third or fourth day?" he asked.
Merely 25 kilometres away from Prasad's village, Chedi Lal, a vegetable farmer from Varanasi's Ramna village has lost his kharif (monsoon) crops too. But, not due to drought conditions but floods.
"I had planted flat beans, bottle gourd and cucumber; I spent about Rs 80,000 on my vegetables and I have lost everything," Chedi Lal, a vegetable farmer, told Gaon Connection. "The produce was almost ready for harvest. But now nothing is left to sell," the farmer complained.
In Chedi Lal's Ramana village, which is known for its flat beans, vegetables on nearly 700 bighas of land were destroyed due to floods in Ganga and the Varuna river in the last week of August.
Thousands of acres across the villages of Tikri, Tarapur, Mudadev, Malhiya, Madarvan, Cholapur, etc. in Varanasi district have faced flood fury and the vegetables grown in these areas are flattened.
As per a press statement issued by the state government on August 31 last month, 18 districts were affected by the floods.
"The government's efforts to provide respite from the floods are underway in the affected districts which include Agra, Auraiya, Etawah, Hamirpur, Fatehpur, Prayagraj, Mirzapur, Varanasi, Kanpur Dehat, Kanpur Nagar, Ballia, Banda, Kasganj, Kaushambi, Bhadohi, Chandauli, Ghazipur and Sitapur," the press statement informed.
"The government is providing relentless support to flood-affected populations in 1,111 areas across 18 districts. A total of 47 teams comprising personnel from NDRF (National Disaster Relief Force), SDRF (State Disaster Relief Force), and PAC (Provincial Armed Constabulary) have rescued 21,153 people and relocated them to the relief camps," the statement added.
Interestingly, of the total 75 districts in the state, 65 have received deficient rainfall in this monsoon season so far, as reflected in the rainfall data of India Meteorological Department (IMD). Varanasi, where farmers have lost their vegetable crops due to floods also has a rainfall deficit of minus 14 per cent, as of September 14.
Last week, on September 7, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath took to social media to assure the farmers that the state government was sensitive to the issue of deficient rainfall and damage to crops, and help was on the way. He said the district magistrates of each of the state's 75 districts were instructed to form teams that would conduct surveys on the drought-like-conditions and compile and present a report in a week's time to the government.
Farmers' losses are mounting
According to a survey conducted in August this year by the agriculture department of Varanasi, the district usually has 47,405 hectares of land under kharif paddy. But, this year, only 43,192 hectares of paddy was cultivated.
Jayas Lal of Rajatabal village in Varanasi district has been cultivating 40 to 50 bighas of land. But this year, due to deficient rainfall, he has cultivated paddy in about 12 bighas of land only.
"The farmers are looking at complete loss. No matter how much watering we do through our pumps it is not the same as rainfall," he pointed out. If only the government had taken this decision a month ago the farmers may not have been in such a terrible state," Jayas Lal, the farmer from Rajatabal village added.
"Adding to our grief, just when we needed water to transplant paddy saplings in our fields, the electricity department disconnected supply to our pumps. That is a crucial time when we need a lot of water. Going by the conditions we are farming in, the sarkaar [government] should declare drought and start providing muaavza [compensation] to farmers," Jayas Lal demanded.
As per him, this year, the shortfall in paddy production in and around his village is expected to be around 50 per cent.
Meanwhile, Jayas Lal's neighbour Bihari Lal has also irrigated his acre and a half of paddy with the help of a tubewell. But the interruption in the power supply delayed his irrigation schedule by nearly a couple of weeks, Bihari told Gaon Connection.
"The paddy crop looks like a lost cause, but till it is on the land, I will do my best to keep it alive," Bihari said.
"The government has not extended any help to irrigate our crops and there is no water coming into our fields to revive the paddy," Shubham Sharma, a farmer from Mehdiganj village, told Gaon Connection. "We get a little water in our tubewells once in ten or fifteen days and how is that sufficient," he asked.
Shubham cultivates paddy on three bighas of land and he has so far already spent Rs 6, 000 on his land, he said. "The produce this year is not enough to sustain our lives," he added.
"The state is facing severe drought and the government should start taking some action. If they don't, the consequences will be bad," Yogiran Singh Patel, the head of Purvanchal Kisan Union, who is based in Harsos village, told Gaon Connection.
Meanwhile, officials from the agricultural department say that there is intermittent rainfall. "There is some rainfall and we cannot declare Varanasi to be drought-hit," Sangam Maurya, an agricultural official of Varanasi district, told Gaon Connection.
There is no paddy on only about 10 to 12 per cent of the paddy land in the state, he pointed out.
"We are advising farmers in that area to cultivate produce that will be ready in two months," Maurya pointed out. He said the farmers were being encouraged to grow millets, sesame seeds, moong dal, mustard and gourds. "These will be ready to harvest by November and December," the agriculture official said.
Farmers miffed at delayed drought survey
The survey ordered by the state government is of absolutely no use, Sanjay Chaubey, spokesperson of Kisan Congress in Uttar Pradesh, told Gaon Connection.
"What is the point of a survey report that is going to be prepared in a week's time; what will the farmers get out of the survey," he asked. He accused the state authorities of being indifferent to the pain of the farmers when they needed water and fertilisers desperately.
"By the time something comes out of the survey, if at all, September will be over. These measures are only to lull the population into a false sense of security," he said angrily. "The government should declare drought," Chaubey said.
"Even if I manage to get about 60 per cent of my yield, I will be grateful… The government should have got the survey done a month ago," Rupesh Kumar of Dharhara village in Chandauli district, told Gaon Connection.
On the other hand, floods in the Ganges have wreaked havoc with vegetable farmers.
Paddy production affected
Since mid-July, Gaon Connection has been reporting on deficient rainfall in some paddy growing states in the Indo-Gangetic Plains. Below normal monsoon rainfall in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal has affected paddy sowing this year.
According to the progress report of the kharif [summers] crop situation published on September 2 by the Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers' Welfare, across the country, there has been a decrease of minus 22.90 per cent in the sowing of paddy as compared to last year.
Also, every variety of pulses has registered a shortfall in plantation this year. Overall, pulses have registered a shortfall by minus 5.91 per cent with pigeon pea (arhar) witnessing a shortfall by minus 2.70 per cent, black lentils (urad bean) by minus 1.56 per cent, green lentils (moong bean) by 1.41 per cent.
Predictably, in the wake of lower than expected sowing of paddy in the key rice producing states, on September 8, the Union Ministry of Finance announced a 20 per cent tax on the export of non-basmati and non-parboiled rice. The same day, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) prohibited the export of broken rice.
Clearly, for the farmers in Uttar Pradesh it is going to be a difficult year ahead.