How a mill in arid Marathwada motivates cane producers to choose a better water management system

Natural Sugar and Allied Industries Limited, a private factory located in Kalamb taluka in Osmanabad district, has successfully drip irrigated over 6,000 of its 10,000 hectares of sugar cane area.

Bhairavnath B Thombare, president and general manager of the plant, said it was the largest area of ​​cane under drip irrigation in the Marathwada region. Thombare says this is due to the factory’s decision to pay Rs 10 / quintal more to farmers who cultivate their crop with drip irrigation.

“The financial benefit and constant monitoring of the plant have succeeded in putting 60 percent of our total cane area under drip irrigation. This is no small feat, given that the state government has so far only managed to irrigate 15-20% of the 10 lakh hectares of sugarcane, ”he said.

In the drought-prone Marathwada region, water is a precious commodity. Annual rainfall in the region is only around 780mm and farmers have to rely on groundwater to keep up with the tide during the hot summer months and keep their crops alive.

The canals of two large irrigation projects – Manjara (in Keij taluka de Beed) and Raigavan – also water the crops in this area. But due to frequent droughts, farmers often end up losing their harvest. The decision to provide financial incentives for farmers was taken by the natural sugar authorities almost 10 years ago. “… Farmers are not doing enough to use this commodity (water) wisely. Central and state governments have various programs in place to get farmers to embrace water budgeting, but the efforts have not always been successful, ”Thombare said.

A sugar industry veteran, he decided that the best way to promote water management was to pay more for sugar cane producers who use drip irrigation instead of flow irrigation. “For the past 10 years, our farmers who cultivate cane by drip irrigation have received Rs 10 / quintal more than the fair and remunerative price (FRP) for the cane they buy,” he said. .

This year, farmers who grow cane with flow irrigation will be paid Rs 261 / quintal (net harvest and transport costs) while those using drip irrigation will be paid Rs 271 / quintal.

The adoption of drip irrigation, especially for the cultivation of sugarcane, has been a long-standing goal of the sugar industry. In 2017, then-Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis announced the government’s intention to put 100% of the state’s sugarcane acreage under drip irrigation. By subsidizing these projects, the government has so far put nearly 18 lakh hectares of state farmland under drip irrigation. Farmers can get grants of up to 55 percent for installing the system.

But many farmers point out that the subsidy is released late and that the maintenance of the irrigation system was difficult.

There have also been reports of fraud, in which money is pocketed without the actual installation of drip irrigation systems.

Thombare said its factory relied on the technology for both system maintenance and fraud prevention. A special factory-designed app not only keeps an eye on the installation, but also issues alerts reminding farmers of maintenance schedules.

“Our agricultural team visits the fields and certifies the systems after installation. We are also closely monitoring any issues affecting the systems, ”he said.

Like most factories, Natural Sugars has also established links with various drip irrigation companies and banks to facilitate the installation of systems at reasonable rates for farmers.

Water is not the only savings farmers make with the system. Drip irrigation methods also require less electricity, and farmers end up saving almost 40%. 100 of their electricity bills.

The most important gain, however, is the increase in the productivity of farmers. Thombare said that starting at 55 tonnes per hectare, farmers who installed drip irrigation are now reporting a cane yield of around 100 tonnes per hectare. “It’s a win-win situation for all… we have a continuous supply of cane and the farmers have increased their incomes,” said a beaming Thombare.

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