Abhijit Zambre, a young agricultural entrepreneur is into the grapes business. He has a group of 300 grape growers with his Drakshabhumi (Grapes Land) Foundation. He is worried now as unseasonal rains have damaged crops of farmers aligned with his foundation.
Zambre is himself a grape grower. "In the next one month, grapes will start coming to market. The fruit is in its final stage. It is a highly sensitive fruit. The current rains would damage the crop badly. The quality will go down and so will the prices in the domestic as well as international market," he said.
Maharashtra has been facing rains since the past two days and the sky has been overcast since a week now. Unfortunately, all major fruits are in the final stage or in the stage of flowering. So, a winter breeze is necessary for quality fruit, be it grapes, oranges or mangoes.
Sandeep Dalavi, a mango grower in Malvan teshil, Sindhudurg has an orchard of 350 mango trees. As rains poured on the state, his trees have lost more than 25% flowers. "The flowering stage is important as the quality of fruits depends on it. These rains have damaged the flowers. So, the quality will suffer," he adds.
The unseasonal rains have mainly affected the quality of fruits. For example, mango skin gets black dots, and the international customers don't buy such fruits. Therefore, if the market collapses, it will have a direct effect on the domestic markets.
Maharashtra tops in India in the horticulture sector. More than 30 lakh farmers are directly involved in horticulture, as per the state horticulture department. The unseasonal rains hit almost all parts of the state, excluding a part east Vidarbha. So, the fruit growers stand to face losses across the state.
"We are taking stock of the exact losses. It will take a week and make a report about it," said state horticulture minister Sandipan Bhumare.
But the reports in local newspapers and media outlets suggest that the losses could be huge. The Konkan region's primary losses are estimated at over 4 lakh hectares, Western Maharashtra over 7 lakh hectares, North Maharashtra over 5.5 lakh hectares, Marathwada 5 lakh hectares, and West Vidarbha around 4 to 5 lakh hectares, right now. The number could go up after the final report of the horticulture department comes.
The losses are not just limited to fruits but also vegetables. Mahadev Garad is cauliflower and tomato grower from Sangamner tehsil of Ahmednagar district. He has 2.5 acres on which he is cultivating cauliflower and tomato this season. As vegetable rates were increasing in the market, he was planning to pluck his crop and take it to local and nearby city markets directly. But the rains have poured water on his plans. "My 30% crop has already gone to APMCs (mandis). But the losses of 70% are higher. Now tomato quality will be lost. Cauliflower will have larvae. The rate will fall from Rs 40 - 60/kg to Rs10-15. These losses will be huge," he said.
Excessive rains in Maharashtra and the storm in May as also in December has put the entire agriculture sector in danger.
"We have been asking the state government to come up with new rates for compensation. Unseasonal rains are becoming a regular problem every year. The state government should help farmers extensively. But, the state government is failing time and again," said Ajit Navale, general secretary of All India Kisan Sabha.
After two consecutive lockdowns in the summer season, farmers were hoping to recover previous losses this year. But the unseasonal rains have pushed them back to the same stage of struggle and disappointment.