With an assured supply of water, an outcome of the Jalyukt Shivar project, the farmers in the village are increasingly shifting to sugarcane cultivation. A canal has given a new lease of life to the dry fields at Takalgaon village, which has a population of 1,869 people, in Pathri taluka of Parbhani district.
A year ago, the villagers voluntarily came forward to deepen and widen the 1.5 km canal, which was without a drop of water. They also contributed Rs 5 lakh for the Jalyukt Shivar project. The village, which used to survive on water tankers, now boasts surplus water because of the government’s flagship project Jalyukt Shivar across the Marathwada region. Out of 25,000 drought-hit villages, 16,000 have become water reliant.
Earlier, traditional crops in the drought-hit village has always been soyabean, cotton and tur — crops which require less water. But now, Takalgaon is not an exceptional case of farmers setting aside a part of their agriculture land for sugarcane cultivation. Across all the eight districts of Aurangabad, Nanded, Parbhani, Beed, Latur, Osmanabd, Hingoli and Jalna, covering the entire Marathawda region, the farmers have diverted partly to sugarcane cultivation. The unanimous explanation that came from farmers was that sugar cane cultivation was being taken up due to water availability. Secondly, being a cash crop, it is less prone to pest attack unlike cotton and soyabean.
Sarpanch Vaijanath Mahipal, said, “Of the total 1,500 hectares of agricultural land, almost 300 to 350 hectares will be under sugar cane cultivation.” The presence of surplus water in the village, which was reeling under severe drought conditions till last two years, has made farmers experiment with more lucrative crops.
Ashok Manchakrao Deshmukh, a farmer from Takri-Kumbhakarna village of Parbhani district, said: “We have always cultivated soyabean and cotton. But last year, pink bollworm ruined the cotton fields. The farmers this year have taken extra precaution to fight the pest attack, but there apprehensions are still there.”
In the state, sugarcane cultivation is confined to 9.5 to 10 lakh hectares of land. The maximum sugarcane cultivation is in western Maharashtra. At Takri-Kumbhakarna, farmers revealed a major water conservation work was underway. At the entrance of the village, adjoining a temple, is a bill board giving details of the project. The villagers hope the completion of the project will bring greater water security in the village.
The diversification of farmers to sugarcane has alarmed the government. Sources in water conservation and agriculture ministry said, “The purpose of Jalyukt Shivar was to mitigate drought. If farmers shift to sugarcane, which is a higher water intensive crop, it would again lead to water crisis in the region.”