Maharashtra's onion farmers staring at a bleak future

Updated: 25 October, 2020 09:07 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon | Mumbai

This year's extended monsoon in onion growing regions of state led to fungal disease that destroyed nearly 60 per cent of produce; price hike inevitable, say authorities

Nearly 50 per cent of the onions stored in sheds were also destroyed
Nearly 50 per cent of the onions stored in sheds were also destroyed

The onion farmers of Maharashtra appear to be at the receiving end of climate change. For the last two years, farmers from Ahmednagar and Nasik have been experiencing heavy rainfall. But this year, the monsoon season that continued till October, has brought along disease. Much of the onion crop has been destroyed after being infected with a fungal disease called Anthracnose, which tends to attack plants in the spring when the weather is cool and wet."

Sandeep Kokate, a farmer from Yeola taluka, 35.3 km from Lasalgaon, Nasik, said, "I had nearly 500 quintals of onions in stock and suddenly, due to heavy rainfall and fungal infection [Anthracnose], nearly 70 per cent of my stock got destroyed. I had to sell stock for as cheap as R7 per kg at Lasalgaon. We are not even able to get a break even." According to Kokate, the condition has worsened over the last two years. "The extended monsoon season has been wreaking havoc."

Half of farmer Baban Nanabhau Fand's onion farm in Sarola Advai village, Paner Taluka, was destroyed due to fungal attack caused by heavy rainfall
Half of farmer Baban Nanabhau Fand's onion farm in Sarola Advai village, Paner Taluka, was destroyed due to fungal attack caused by heavy rainfall

Similar concerns were raised by Baban Nanabhau Fand, 35, a farmer from Sarola Advai village, Paner Taluka, Ahmednagar. Half of Fand's onion farm was affected due to heavy rainfall, and almost 60 per cent of the total produce was destroyed. "Ahmednagar is a dry district and the maximum rainfall we receive is around 100 mm, which is considered to be normal. But this year, rainfall in the district was over 200 mm, which is double of what we receive."

Dr Anand Kumar Singh, Deputy Director General, at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), under union ministry of Agriculture, confirmed that this year, the Kharif onion crop in parts of Maharashtra were damaged due to the fungal attack. "As per the preliminary survey findings report from Nasik, nearly 60 per cent of Kharif onion fields were affected between September and October due to the disease," he said, adding that it was triggered by the torrential rain. "Moreover, nearly 50 per cent of the stored onions in bamboo and dry grass sheds have also been destroyed, leading to tonnes of onion wastage in the affected areas."

Baban Nanabhau Fand
Baban Nanabhau Fand

When asked about the estimated loss, Dr Singh said, "Nearly 60 per cent of the national produce comes from Maharashtra. We can be certain that the damages will lead to shortage of onion supply and therefore, price hike would be inevitable, which would continue till the year end or early January 2021, when the new harvest produce hits the market.

He said that the authorities will be closely monitoring the situation in Maharashtra. "We are equally concerned, as any short supply scenario from traditional belts like Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Haryana, will have a nationwide impact. We are now in the process of looking for newer non-traditional areas, for cultivation of onion, to tackle future crisis," explained Dr Singh.

Dr Anand Kumar Singh and Rajeev Nair
Dr Anand Kumar Singh and Rajeev Nair

When contacted, Rajeev Nair, former director, Indian Meteorological Department admitted that climate change has had a strong impact on this region in Maharashtra.

"Adverse weather conditions are being experienced in India year after year, due to large scale climate change influences. Places that were never warm are becoming hotter, and places that received minimal rainfall are now either getting extreme rainfall or witnessing floods. This is a topic of study and research for many present meteorologists, who are also extending their scope of studies to understand unseasonal rainfall in Rajasthan and parts of Marathwada."

Early predictions not possible

Onion farmer Baban Nanabhau Fand suggested that the IMD send weather forecast in millimeter rather than in percentile, and give predictions in advance. "It could help minimise losses," he said.

However, Nair said that at present farmers get a five-day advance forecast, which is being sent twice a week through mobile, bulletins and even on Doordarshan. "Any forecast beyond this period usually is not accurate. The percentile forecast given for all-India levels, may not be specifically useful for farmers. But, to give a forecast almost a month before the monsoon is not possible and may not be accurate. Efforts are on to provide forecasts to farmers even at block levels, which should happen soon by the Agricultural Meteorological Division (IMD), Pune."

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First Published: 25 October, 2020 09:05 IST

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