Rajapur farmers stand united in crisis

With lack of land ownership, security, labour and high pricing on electricity for farmers in Rajapur, the future for farming looks bleak.

Prakash Sapre and Sunil Kokate at their farm

Prakash Sapre and Sunil Kokate are in their first year of farming. Together, they grow watermelons and pulses on a land of just under 12 acres.

This is how farming is done in most parts of Rajapur in Maharashtra. Group farming is clearly the flavour of the season. But all is not bright: the land which gives them the produce is not theirs.

“We pay a rent of Rs. 3,000 per acre in the first year, and this increases to close to Rs. 5,000 in the second year, and even more in the consequent years,” said Prakash.

The landlords reside in the same village as their tenants, but offer no help with their farming practices. The land rented out to the farmers is barren, with no fencing or gates.

“We have to maintain it in our own way. The landlords do not help us at all. We have paid for the fencing and the gates on this land,” added Sunil, pointing towards a barbed fence.

While joking about how a tiger fell into a well on the lands of one of the landlords, Prakash showed signs of worry too. “There is a constant fear of wild animals spoiling the crops. There have been wild boars, monkeys and tigers in this area. Hence, land has to be secured 24*7,” he added. They have hired security to guard their crops.

Labour in Ratnagiri, especially in Rajapur, is a mainstream problem. Lack of monetary incentives is the reason why people in this district of Maharashtra do not work in heavy manual activities.

“Most of them move to Bombay or Pune for better prospects. The money for labour in Ratnagiri is very less, hence there is an outflow of local labour,” said Prasad Tawade, who runs a cashew production unit. Their expenses have risen as they have to get labour from outside to work on their lands.

Apart from lack of local labour force, electricity is another major problem. The high electricity bills have led to farmers resorting to subtle ways of pumping water for into the agricultural lands. Using groundwater to facilitate the working of a diesel run pump is the routine.

Barren lands like these are rented out for farming in Rajapur

“I hope the government does not meddle with the fuel prices for a long time. It is anyway Rs. 60/litre now; if it increases , we have no idea how we will manage,” said Sunil, eyebrows twitching in a frown.

Government schemes and policies have not been of much use to the people of Rajapur. Their sole bone of contention being the lack of facilities, which are available to the areas under the Mumbai Industrial Development Corporation.

“We understand that industries are the base for our country’s development, but overlooking the plight of farmers in and around the state is unfair. We do not even have access to clean drinking water at times, ” complained Prakash.

This issue with government facilities is further accentuated by the fact that there are no good roads in Rajapur.

“There are no proper roads here. I had to choose my place of production on the basis of access to roads. A lot of farmers in the inner parts of the village do not have access. This only increases the cost for the farmers,” added Prasad.

Pics: Suromitro Basu


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