Bitter Harvest

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SummarySugar-cane farmer Ramdas Dagdu Chavhan, who does not get as much as he puts into his crop, is looking for another source of income

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.”

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