Trapped in debt, melon farmers in Satna take on double the risk

After torrential rains last year ruined any prospect of profits for the musk melon cultivators in Satna, Madhya Pradesh, and sunk them in debt, the farmers have doubled the acreage of cultivation hoping their gamble will pay off this year.

Sachin Tulsa tripathiSachin Tulsa tripathi   19 March 2022 10:57 AM GMT

Trapped in debt, melon farmers in Satna take on double the risk

Bakiya Bailo (Satna), Madhya Pradesh

The year gone by was not a good one for musk melon cultivation in Satna district, Madhya Pradesh. In Rampur block of the district, several farmer families depend on this summer fruit for their livelihoods.

The dry and stony area around the Bakiya Barrage, known as kachchar land and built on river Tons, is especially suited for musk melon cultivation. There are nearly 3,000 acres (1 acre = 0.4 hectare) under cultivation in this area of which 1,500 acres are devoted to melons.

However, last year, the sweet and tasty muskmelon from this area took a beating on account of cyclones and heavy rainfall that happened in the month of May 2021. Thousands of acres of farmland were inundated and horticulture crops destroyed.

In order to repay debts, the farmers this year have doubled the amount of muskmelons they usually cultivate.

Also Read: Debt-ridden melon farmers in Satna fall through the cracks; govt has no record of such cultivators

"Last year, I had counted on a good income from the melons. I thought from the profits, I could marry off one of my daughters," Radha Bai Singh, a 55-year-old melon farmer from Bakiya village, told Gaon Connection. But sadly, the torrential rains put paid to those dreams as the ready-to pick melons rotted on the field, she said.

"The marriage negotiations broke down and now I am in debt for over a lakh of rupees," she said. This year, hoping to make up for that loss, Radha Bai Singh has employed farm labourers so that faster and more sowing can happen, and she is able to get her daughter married.

Trapped in debt

The musk melon that is traditionally grown in villages in this area such as Bakiya, Tivriyan, Khandwa, Deori, Golhata, Thathaura, etc., usually fetched the farmers a good price. But last year in 2021, they faced tremendous losses because of the untimely heavy rainfall. Many farmers had to borrow from moneylenders in order to make ends meet.

Further, due to the lockdown in Madhya Pradesh (between March 17 and June 15, and intermittently thereafter), even the melons that were harvested could not be sent to the mandis regularly. The rains in May 2021 due to cyclones Yaas and Tauktae added to the grief of the cultivators.

Echoing Radha Bai's words, Keshav Tiwari also worried about his debt of over one lakh rupees he had incurred because of the rains in 2021. "In an attempt to recover from the losses and be able to repay my loans, I have doubled the acreage of melon this year," the 45-year-old farmer from Bakiya Bailo village, told Gaon Connection. While last year he grew melons in two and a half acres of land, this year, he is growing them in an additional two acres.

Bhaiyya Lal Singh also lost more than one and a half lakh rupees because of the unseasonal rains in May 2021. "If the crop had survived, I would have made a lot of profit, but everything was washed away," the 59-year-old farmer told Gaon Connection.

Also Read: Yield from the floodplains: A community of migrant seasonal farmers, the 'Palaziye' raise summer vegetables annually on river beds

The rains took everyone by surprise, said Narayan Singh. "I had grown melons in about four acres of land. In fact, just a day before it began to rain, I had harvested some of the fruits and sold it to the agent who bought them at Rs 30 a kilogram," Narayan Singh told Gaon Connection. "But following the rains, most of the melons on the fields had rotted and I could sell what was left for barey Rs 5 a kilo," he lamented.

The sowing of the melons has been delayed by a fortnight or so this year because it took that long for the water levels in the barrage to subside. The area was still soggy and till it dried out completely, sowing could not begin, explained Bhaiyya Lal.

Double the risk

Roughly half the area out of the 3,000 acres around the Bakiya Barrage is used for melon cultivation with the other half devoted to assorted vegetables. But, according to farmer Virendra Tiwari, this year, most of the farmers have decided to entirely devote the area to musk melons.

"The melons start growing in May and June and are ready to pick in July," the 52-year-old Tiwari told Gaon Connection.

However, there are no official records of such melon cultivation in that area. According to Anil Singh Kushwaha, the assistant director at Satna's Horticulture Department, there are no records of the fruits and vegetables cultivated in the stony areas around the barrage. "The farmers in and around Bakiya barrage do not cultivate the melons on 'agricultural lands', but on the kachchar lands and that is why there are no records of the produce there," he told Gaon Connection.

Also Read: Lease farmers harvest gloom on the fertile banks of the Sirsi river

"The kachchar land is best suited for melon cultivation," Rajesh Singh, horticultural scientist of the Krishi Vigyan Kendra at Rewa, Madhya Pradesh, told Gaon Connection. "Any temperatures over 26 degrees celsius is necessary for their growth," he added.

While there are no records of the area under musk melon cultivation in Madhya Pradesh with the Satna horticulture department, according to records from the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), in 2017-18, Madhya Pradesh produced 127.48 million tonnes of the fruit, making it the third highest in the country after Uttar Pradesh (with 548.67 million tonnes) and Andhra Pradesh (with 314.39 million tonnes).

Read the story in Hindi.

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