Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Sugarcane: Sweet or Bitter?

If we take a glance at this year’s monsoon, we would perceive that God has poured love on us through ample amount of rain. The reports say that it was more than last few years. The government claims that it has taken serious steps to store the water. Now, we will be able to use water at least until July 2017. At present, we are quite relaxed that the next summer would be pleasant. But there are chances of repetition of the situations we faced this year.

The situation in summer 2016 was dreadful in our country. Maharashtra especially faced a “drought-like situation”. It literally signed out the regions like Vidarbha and Marathwada. And it again raised the questions on the crops grown in these areas, mainly in Marathwada. Sugarcane always stands first in the list of the most water consuming crops which causes some bitter controversies despite being sweet in taste!

The growth rate of sugar industries increased after the introduction of modern sugar industries in early 20th century. Although this initiative by Britishers started in UP, Maharashtra boasts of the highest yield in the country. One-fourth of the total sugar factories in the country are in Maharashtra. The state has progressed tremendously and captured the first position as the largest sugar producer.  This has created numbers of sugarcane farmers and also workers in sugar mills. But it started causing adverse effects on the water storage. Sugarcane needs ample of water for yielding. Also, the process of sugar making requires a lot of water.

The ratio of rainfall does not really show that Maharashtra sees rain in lesser quantity. In fact, it’s Rajasthan! Then why do the conditions get worse every year in this state? Maybe because the droughts are man-made. We grow so much of this water-intensive crop that there are years when we export the stuff. At the same time, we import oil-seeds and pulses which consume much less water.

Aren’t they ideal for our weather conditions?

The sugar cane-versus-water debate is not new. In 1999, the Maharashtra Water and Irrigation Commission under Madhav Chitale, former chairman of the Central Water Commission, made several key recommendations. The most important point was putting a stop to sugar cane cultivation in Marathwada. Why is this issue yet to be solved? The governing bodies still do not know which crop is suitable for which region.

How is that possible? 

The answer lies somewhere in the question itself!

Most of the sugar mills in Maharashtra are owned, major political leaders and industrialists. The concentration of power is in their hands and this is stopping the government from taking firm steps against this issue. While the politicians are enjoying sitting on their chairs, the crucial problem is faced by farmers who are not able to recover their investments due to the scarcity of water. They are not getting the desired value of the crop. It has placed their future in a major peril.

Droughts do not hit us like earthquakes that come without any caution. When the whole world is anxious about the climate change, Maharashtra seems to be totally unaware of it. This cannot be a sheer coincident. We can only hope that no Indian leader consciously wishes to be the desert maker of the 21st century. Because in coming two decades this can possibly be the face of Maharashtra. So, we cannot deny the fact behind the situation of next summer.

Isn’t it possible to systematically stimulate the sugarcane farmers to switch to other crops? 

Off course, every human-made catastrophe has a way of solving it only if the ‘system’ has an inclination towards it…

Written by Medini Kajarekar
Walking through the pages to find home in words.

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