The Vasantrao Naik Sheti Swavlamban Mission (VNSSM), set up by the Maharashtra government, has proposed to replace “killer crops” like sugarcane and Bt cotton in the 14 districts of drought-hit Vidarbha and Marathwada regions of the state.
Kishore Tiwari, who heads the panel, submitted its report to chief minister Devendra Fadnavis recently.
Marathwada has been in the grip of its worst drought since 1972 and this has opened up the cane versus water debate. The CM has also recommended that no new sugar mills should be allowed in Marathwada region for 5 years. Similarly, there has been criticism against Bt cotton that it has led to farmer suicides in Vidarbha region.
Terming sugarcane and Bt cotton as ‘killer crops’, Tiwari said that the state government needs to impose stringent condition to curb cultivation of such rain-sensitive cash crops. “These are the crops that have created this man-made drought,” he said, adding that the government needs to incentivise cultivation of sorghum, pulses, oil seeds along with introduction of sustainable non-chemical, eco-friendly and poison-free cultivation practices.”
“Of the 4 million distressed farmers from 14 districts of Vidarbha and Marathwada, only 35% debt-laden farmers are getting fresh crop loans according to current norms. An additional R10,000 crore farm credit would cover all the 4 million dry land farmers under institutional farm credit and then they would be automatically covered under the Prime Minister’s crop insurance scheme,” Tiwari added.
Speaking about the measures taken by the government, he said that for the first time it is focusing on core issues like cultivation practices, use of fertilizer and pesticides, etc. Schemes like soil health card and soil moisture management would play a key role in reducing the cultivation cost by almost 50%. The infestation in the case of bollworm has risen to such an extent that even after processing, they have been found in the bales, he pointed out about Vidarbha, the drought-prone region of Maharashtra which has been witnessing the highest farmer suicides. Till date, the region reported 468 farmer suicides in the last three months. The April figures are still awaited, he said.
According to Vijay Jawanchiya, a farmer activist, Bt cotton thrives only in irrigated areas and therefore a mention should be made on packs of Bt cotton that such seeds are only meant for irrigated areas as is done in the case of cigarette packs when health warnings are issued. The government should encourage straight-line Bt crops and universities in the country should be encouraged to do research in this area.
Dr KR Kranthi of CICR is among a growing number of scientists who have been questioning why India let itself be caught in the hybrid trap, which has stopped it from taking full advantage of the Bt cotton technology. With 95% of India’s cotton area under Bt hybrids, its yields should be the highest. Yet the truth is that India’s seed-cotton yields are way below the global average of 2,700 kg/hectare.