While the spectre of another lockdown haunts the farmers, a storm last night flattened standing crops of wheat, vegetables and mango in various districts of Uttar Pradesh.
Flattened wheat crop in Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh. Pic: Mohit Shukla
Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh
Standing amidst his mango orchard in village Aurangabad, farmer Akeel Ahmed is devastated. Last night he lost a large chunk of his mango crop in a storm that hit parts of Uttar Pradesh. His village, located in Misrikh tehsil of Sitapur, was affected too. “We were optimistic about a good crop of mangoes this time,” the 60-year-old told Gaon Connection.
But looking around, it was obvious that was not to be. Branches of the trees had been wrenched off by the fury of the storm, damaged fruits lay on the soggy ground along with his hopes of a good harvest and income. “Only about 30 per cent of the fruits seem to be still intact,” Ahmed estimated.
Ahmed owns 100 acres (40 hectares) of mango orchards. He inherited it from his father who had bought the land before Independence. The area is famous for its mangoes and Ahmed cultivates several varieties of them and sends them not just to other parts of the country, but also exports a big chunk abroad, especially to the Gulf countries.
“It is not just the storm that is causing me distress,” Ahmed pointed out. “I can deal with that. But I am worried about the second lockdown, wherever it happens,” he said. Last year, just before the COVID 19 lockdown, he had managed to sell his mangoes at Rs 2,800 a quintal. When lockdown was clamped he was forced to sell them at Rs 1,000 a quintal, he said. This year, things seemed to be looking up when his orchard was infested twice and now there was the storm.
As India faces a massive second wave of COVID19, with daily new coronavirus cases crossing 315,000 yesterday, a number of states are imposing curfews and lockdowns. This has increased the worries of both farmers and migrant workers.
“I spent nearly twenty lakh spraying the orchards,” Ahmed said. “I can’t even bear to think about what will happen if the second lockdown is announced,” he said. His income has also taken a big hit because he is unable to send his mangoes abroad.
Approximately 100 kilometres north of where Akeel Ahmed stood in his ravaged mango orchard, his despair was echoed on the face of Ram Gopal Sharma in Behta village of Sitapur district.
“Just yesterday I managed to get a combine harvester for my wheat,” the farmer said. But before he could harvest even a sheaf of grain, the storm hit his fields and the standing crop was laid completely low. “The combine is standing in all readiness in my field, but there is no crop left standing for it to harvest,” he said in a low voice. The wheat grains had blown off and were lying scattered.
Sharma has not been able to catch a break since the first lockdown last year. In an attempt to make a little more money, he cultivated bananas last year. “I invested twenty two lakh rupees in that project. But a devastating flood ruined it for me and all I could recover was fifty nine thousand rupees,” he said. He said he had invested Rs 80,000 on his 25 bighas of wheat of which 10 bighas were written off. Surveying his fields after the storm ripped through his ripe wheat, he is at a loss at how to recover from this loss. Sharma also has a bank loan to repay.
Similar sight of crop devastation was visible in Unnao district, about 150 kms from Sitapur. “Kaleja phat raha hai [my heart is breaking],” lamented Dharmu Singh as he surveyed his dishevelled, waterlogged piece of land at Bhetnathi Singh village in Unnao district. Till the storm hit, without warning, there were 103 neatly tied bundles of wheat ready to be taken away. Of them 25 bundles were blown away in the storm last night, eight to ten of them came undone and the rest were dripping wet. “The storm has caused a great deal of loss,” said the 46-year-old farmer.
About 20 odd kilometres from Dharmu Singh’s village, another vegetable farm was destroyed in the unexpected storm. Hori Lal Lodhi was devastated as his parwal (a variety of gourd) crop that was getting ready to be harvested was damaged.
“It takes a lot of care and effort to put up the machans (scaffolding to support the gourd vine) and, just when I thought I would get a good yield this time, they were all blown away,” Lodhi said. Harvested about once a week, each yield of parwal from his 10 biswa (half bigha) land used to get Singh anything between 20-30 kgs. But not this time, Lodhi shook his head sadly, as he tried to right the collapsed scaffolding and salvage at least a few of the vines.
With inputs from Sumit Yadav, Unnao, Uttar Pradesh.