Fruit of their labour
The Kutch region of Gujarat is known to have acute water shortage and high salinity of groundwater—making it difficult to undertake agriculture in a profitable way. The promised water from the Sardar Sarovar Dam Project is also yet to reach much of its command area.
Since 2005, farmers in Kutch have diverted their efforts towards horticultural crops (pomegranate, date palm, mango, watermelon) that require less water and can tolerate the high salinity in groundwater. They invested time, money, and labour, with the hope that these high-value crops would earn them higher profits. While they’ve had good harvests, it has not translated into better economic conditions, due to lack of adequate market linkages and infrastructure, low demand in Kutch, and distance from urban areas.
The lockdown in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic has made matters worse for the farmers, as it came during the harvest season of horticultural crops and broke down supply chains. Moreover, demand is not expected to rise significantly even after the lockdown is lifted, because with reduced incomes and uncertain futures, average households are likely to buy essentials—foodgrains, vegetables, and dairy—over what they see as premium produce like fruits.
Praharsh is a co-founder and advisor at Prayaas: The Movement for Grassroot Changes.