India’s water worries: a look at drought prone Marathwada

India’s water worries: a look at drought prone Marathwada

With the monsoon falling far short of expectations, and a quarter of the country already drought hit, India’s farmers are in for a tough time. While the impacts of a drought will be felt across the nation, certain regions will be particularly affected, one of which is an area called Marathwada in the state of Maharasthra.

Click here to view a slideshow about how the drought is affecting Marathwada

Marathwada is a notoriously drought prone region. Even if it were to rain now, the region will see much lower production than expected," explains Sneha Shetty of Oxfam India.

Oxfam partners with local NGOs Marathwada, to help farmers develop sustainable agricultural practices, and transform barren land into land that is at least somewhat cultivatable. They primarily work with extremely poor farmers, who don’t possess a title to the land they work on and are from the scheduled castes and tribes. They call themselves the Gairandharek, which literally translates into “occupants of grazing land."

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These farmers will have to grapple with several issues if the monsoon fails, one being food security, as most farmers don’t have access to irrigation facilities and are entirely dependent on rainfall. The cash income they get from working as laborers on big farms will also disappear. Farmers who have taken a loan to grow cash crops like cotton will once again be sucked back into indebtedness. Although the government has announced its farm loan waiver program, Shetty points out that many of the poor farmers Oxfam helps cannot get loans from banks – instead they depend on money-lenders and hence the waiver program does not benefit them.

Shetty maintains that even if the government subsidizes food, water remains a huge problem for these farmers. “The government has not invested in long-term measures, and a drought doesn’t evoke as much of a public response as an earthquake or tsunami," she explains. She points out that despite the shortage of water in the region, sugarcane is grown in abundance due to pressure from the sugar lobby, much of which is controlled by politicians. This just exacerbates the region’s water deficit, as sugarcane requires irrigation through borewells, which further depletes the groundwater.

“Managing drought needs good vision and a long term effort from the government – they should focus on conservation and improving water levels," says Shetty. She explains that in Maharashtra there are few dams, and the ones that exist tend to benefit wealthier farmers. She states that simple measures like land leveling and bunding, which would increase the ground water level and improve soil moisture, can be carried out through schemes like the NREGA.

In Marathwada, Oxfam works to train farmers in sustainable agriculture practices in order to improve the quality of their land. It also helps them file to claim ownership of the land they are cultivating, and is developing community based microfinance institutions to counter the issue of poor credit.

Despite the organization’s efforts in Marathwada, if the rains fail this year however, Shetty admits that Oxfam does not have a plan and the farmer’s crops will die.