Overexploitation of water leaves very little for farming
IT IS back to square one for the farmers of Jalaun district in Uttar Pradesh. Reeling under persistent drought from 2003-08, they were driven to mentha (mint) cultivation that promised good returns. Instead, it increased debts. Cultivation of this water-intensive crop is fast shrinking due to depletion of groundwater and no alternative source of irrigation in drought-prone Bundelkhand region of the state.
About 40,000 farmers in Uttar Pradesh have stopped growing mentha due to lack of water in the past three years. The worst hit are the farmers in Bundelkhand. The state government introduced mentha cultivation in the region in 2005 to help farmers earn more. “Given the persistent drought in the region, irrigation cost has gone up,” said Utkarsh Sinha of non-profit Centre for Contemporary Studies and Research (CCSR) in Lucknow. In 2009 the state produced 30,000 tonnes of mentha on 0.2 million hectare (ha), according to the Uttar Pradesh agriculture department.
A year later the area under mentha reduced to 0.15 million ha. Though there is no official data for 2011, the department estimates it would be less than 0.1 million ha. Laluram Niranjan, a farmer at Gadher village in Jalaun, rued, “Failure in mentha cultivation is inevitable.” He was one of the first farmers to take up mentha farming in the district in 2005.
He then foresaw only profits—a return of Rs 60,000 a year per acre (0.4 hectare). “This is three times from wheat cultivation,” he said. In the first year, he earned a profit of Rs 75,000.
With a large number of farmers in the district turning to the crop, he sensed a business opportunity and set up a mentha distillation unit at the cost of Rs 5 lakh. Now mentha cultivation is fast shrinking because of dipping groundwater level. “I am in debt,” he said. Niranjan has abandoned two hectares of his six-hectare mentha crop.
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