Published On : Mon, Jun 12th, 2017

What reduced the Indian farmer from a mighty conqueror to a meek supplicant?

Nagpur: When I was growing up, my most favourite relative was my uncle, my father’s elder brother, whom we all called ‘Annaji’. Real name – Vishramji Shravanji Yawalkar.

He was the elder son of a poor farmer, who had most probably migrated to Vidarbha from Marathwada; (Droughts and plague were the two main reasons people migrated then.)Shravanji lived with his family in Warud, in Amraoti District. ( 100 Kms from Nagpur).

My parents and I lived first in Delhi and then shifted to Nagpur when my father began an industry formulating pesticides.

Annaji was the Chairman of the company and remained so till he died. He was the back bone, the main support system. We used to visit Warud as often as we could. I loved it, though initially there used to be no power, and the loos were strange, with no running water! We also had to bathe in a semi open bathroom.

Inheriting 4 acres from his father, by the end of his life time Annaji had added many farms -many in the name of his brother (my father), his sons and his nephew too. Total Yawalkar land holding must have been over 100 acres!! He was spoken about in all Vidarbha villages as a “prosperous farmer” – which he definitely was! In spirit though, not in life style.

From what I have learnt since then, Annaji became rich by being a progressive, inquisitive and experimental farmer. He was not satisfied in continuing to do what his father had done before him, but was always experimenting with new crops, even orchards. He would visit other parts of Maharashtra, like Jalgaon, Nasik, Pune and see what was grown there, what inputs were required and what was the price fetched in the market. Then he would purchase some saplings/ seeds and grow them in his ‘experimental farm’ called ‘Tadachi Wadi’ in Warud. I remember seeing grape vines there also one year! Did not succeed due to our dry and hot summers though.

But finally, he struck upon one fruit tree that would change his area’s, even Vidarbha’s future. He brought bananas and oranges from Jalgaon area to Amraoti district. First a few trees and then he planted an entire Orange orchard.

People ridiculed him and laughed at him. There were just two other ‘rich farmers’ like him who also emulated his example. One was his friend, the other his father in law. Sitaram Choudhary and Jagobaji Ande were their names. 6 – 7 years later, when the trees bore fruit and the harvest was sold for a whopping Rs. one lakh ( back in the 1960s!!) that the news spread like wild fire. Everyone wanted to know about this fruit tree and plant it too.

It was during this period of ‘Gold – or shall we call it Orange – Rush’ that the then C.M. of Maharashtra Yeshwantrao Chavan visited Warud. Seeing the lush green and orange orchards he was so impressed, he exclaimed ” this is the California of India I am seeing!”

Since then one enterprising local journalist has been publishing a Marathi magazine called ‘California Times’ from Warud.

It was not just oranges, bananas also grew well in that area and fetched good money for farmers.

Factors that led to farmers’ downfall

Unfortunately, in their very success lay their downfall! Annaji could see for himself that Bananas specially drained too much ground water; he stopped cultivating them himself and turned completely to oranges. But bananas continued to be a popular ‘crop’. Annaji, being the Town President of Warud for 10 years tried his best to educate farmers AND local politicians about water conservation, building of small check dams etc. at least if a big irrigation dam was not coming near Warud. No one was ready to listen. Even the forests surrounding Warud were fast being cut down to make way for more farms – and growing population. Less trees meant less rain fall and within years the river Chudamani that used to be perennial began drying up by Jan – February.

We shall expand on these points later, but these factors changed the farmers’ circumstance completely:

  1. Depleting water levels that required deeper wells, then bore wells, and electric pumps to draw water out. ( Till 70s I have myself seen hand drawn water in our fields, an unseen sight now!) No dams, as source of irrigation came up in the area which remained ‘koradwahu’.)
  2. Rising cost of power and shortage of it. As more and more farmers began depending on electric pumps to draw water, electricity bills started climbing, as did rate of power.
  3. In the beginning of the 70s decade, a very dangerous and hard to control ‘fungal infection’ called ‘Kolshi’ began attacking orange trees and destroying entire orchards. No agricultural scientist could come up with a solution.
  4. Almost every other crop like Cotton and Jowar were replaced by Hybrid forms, which meant seeds had to be bought for each season from seed companies instead of using own seeds; hybrids require more chemical fertilizers and pesticides to give good yield. So in short, cost of inputs went up dramatically.
  5. With welfare schemes like MNREGA farm labour became scarce and expensive too – so this cost also went up.
  6. And finally, rates of produce began going down. Even fruits. Just one point will illustrate this – till 1976 or so rates of one Gm. of gold and one quintal of cotton was the same – approx Rs.600/ That is why cotton was called White gold. Look at the difference now!!!!

(To be continued)

—-Sunita Mudaliar (Associate Editor)