Sugar-cane farmer, Palasdev village, Maharashtra
Routine: Chavhan leaves for his farm early morning to water the crop and returns after sunset
It is five in the morning. Ramdas Dagdu Chavhan’s house, built near a reservoir, is very cold. He has to leave for his farm in two-and-a-half hours to water the sugar-cane crop. Electricity to his village comes at 8:30 a.m. and goes off in exactly eight hours.
Chavhan owns 30 acres near Indapur, a sleepy town around 150 km from Pune. He grows sugar cane on 22 acres and wheat or corn on the remaining land. “We have been growing sugar cane for generations now. It was very lucrative during my father’s time,” he says. These days, sugar-cane farmers in Maharashtra are not satisfied with the price they get. A farmer was killed in police firing and another died in Chavhan’s town during recent protests for higher price by sugar-cane farmers led by Raju Shetty, president of the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana. Shetty has been protesting since November 7 against Karmyogi Co-operative Sugar Factory in Indapur, which is controlled by state co-operatives minister Harshavardhan Patil.
Chavhan does not favour violent protests. “Of course, farmers are facing many problems and Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana and Raju Shetty are working for our betterment. But our family does not favour any kind of violence.” His father, who is in his late 80s, is a Gandhian.
Chavhan, along with his two sons, daughter-in-law and wife, works on the farm round the year, and is also as an accountant for a few hours every week in a nearby ITI. “The cultivation of sugar cane is an 18-month cycle. It includes various processes like ploughing, tilling, sowing, weeding, pest control, watering and cutting. A farmer needs Rs 75,000 to Rs 80,000 per acre,” he says.
Chavhan’s sons, Sagar (26) and Mayur (24), both have diplomas in mechanics but when neither could find a job for months, they decided to join farming. “It’s not just the case with my sons, many young people here can’t find jobs. Therefore, they get into farming,” says Chavhan.
“We started with this crop of sugar cane in the middle of July. Most of the work now has been done. All we need to do through the next months is water the crop and fertilise it every month,” says Chavhan. After breakfast, Chavhan and his sons head out to the farm at 7.30 a.m. to water the crop. “In these months, it gets really difficult because it’s really cold in the morning,” says Sagar. On reaching the farm, which is a few kilometres away from their home, they check the pump to make sure water is flowing properly. “Many a time, due to voltage fluctuation, a pipe bursts or the pump malfunctions. That’s why one person has to be present throughout the watering process,” Chavhan says. When the electricity schedule changes, the watering duties shift from morning to 10:30 at night. “That happens every few weeks, and that’s the toughest time for us. We have to be on the farm till five in the morning,” says Mayur.
In the afternoon, Chavhan’s wife, Mangal, walks down to the farm in the wintry sun with lunch—bhakris (roti-like flat jowar breads), sabzi and onions. After eating the meal in the shade of a tree, Chavhan and his sons take a nap for 20 minutes and get back to work. Mangal also helps out in the farm whenever they hire women labourers. “She’s good at that. After all, only a woman can make another woman work,” Chavhan jokes.
Chavhan feels the efforts they put into the farm do not reflect in the returns. “We grow around 72 tonnes of sugar cane on one acre. But we rarely get more than
Rs 2,500 per tonne from the sugar factories,” he says. Even that amount is split into installments and is received over 30 months. “In the last season, we got Rs 1,800 a tonne as the first installment and then Rs 150 and Rs 250,” he says.
The Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana demands a first installment of Rs 3,000 a tonne. The Chavhans have been keenly following the protests but are not very hopeful. “There is too much politics involved in the sugar industry in Maharashtra. We have limits on selling our produce, and the banks only loan Rs 35,000 per acre. It’s not a fair deal,” Sagar says.
When the sun sets, the Chavhan men return home. As Mangal starts preparing dinner in the kitchen, Chavhan says, “We are looking for an alternative source of income. Just farming is not possible now. Maybe a shop selling farming instruments or a workshop is a good option.”