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Mumbai: Latur is back on its feet and its pulse mills are running again, a year after an acute drought. The dry bed of the Manjra river, the water train from Sangli and the once ubiquitous water tankers have become things of the past.

Last year’s abundant rains in Marathwada—a region of Maharashtra that includes Latur and borders Karnataka and Telangana—have helped farmers produce record amounts of pulses. So much so that the state is struggling with a massive amount of tur, with output growing from 444,000 tonnes in 2016 to 2.35 million tonnes in 2017.

Nitin Kalantri, a Latur-based trader and pulse mill owner said Latur has regained its position as one of India’s benchmark markets for pulses. “Trade was down 20% in 2015 and 40% in 2016 as yields went down due to drought. But trade is 20% higher than normal this year due to high yields and a good monsoon in 2016," Kalantri said. Of the total 90-odd dal mills in and around Latur, only around 40 operated around this time of the year in 2016 and 2015, according to Kalantri.

“This year, all of them are running to capacity and processing around 35,000-37,000 quintals of tur per day due to large arrivals," Kalantri said. “Latur is one of the benchmark markets of foodgrain and tur in India and one could say that good rainfall last year literally washed away the previous two bad seasons," Kalantri said. He added that even the general water situation in the city was much better as compared to the previous two years. “There are no tankers and obviously no train supplying water," he said.

What has changed?

Maharashtra received 94.9% of its average rainfall in 2016, with Marathwada getting nearly 1,000 mm against its average of 826 mm. In the previous year, Maharashtra had received only 59.4% of its normal rainfall. Rainfall in Marathwada, the site of the drought, was 40% deficient in 2015, marginally less than 42% deficient rains in 2014.

The drought in 2014 and 2015 hit farmers hard, with grain yields falling by nearly 20%. In 2016, hit by the worst drought since 1972, farm output in Marathwada collapsed by 40-50%, triggering acute farm distress.

The drought and the subsequent campaign by a section of environmentalists and water experts also led to the area under sugarcane, often called a water-guzzling crop in Marathwada, shrinking by nearly 35% in 2016, and farmers shifting to foodgrain and tur. Area under foodgrain, pulses, and oilseeds in Marathwada rose by 4%, 30%, and 8% respectively, further leading to a whopping 80%, 180%, and 142% rise in yields, according to Maharashtra’s agriculture commissionerate.

The quantum leap in yields powered Latur’s comeback as a major grain market.

Latur-based environmental activist and author Atul Deulgaonkar, who has been at the forefront in demanding permanent solutions to Marathwada’s drought, concurs. “Marathwada received nearly 1,000 mm of rainfall in 2016 and the situation is much better this year. Latur’s market also receives foodgrain and tur from other states and the trade suffered in the previous two years because of drought in Maharashtra as well as the neighbouring states. The situation has been reversed this year due to a good monsoon but permanent solutions have still to be found out," Deulgaonkar said.

The excess rainfall made up for the deficient monsoon in 2014 and 2015, and powered a three-fold increase in Marathwada’s foodgrain production, traders and Latur residents say. Dilip Shah, chairman of Latur’s Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee, a regulated market for farm commodities, said tur arrivals had increased to 10,000-15,000 quintals per day from a mere 2,000 quintals in 2016. “This year, we are dealing with excess arrivals and procurement issues," Shah said.

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