Sugarcane farmers struggle to cope with climate change

Jaikumar Gouda of Khavatakoppa village in Belgaum district of Karnataka is a worried man. Just 10 to 15 years ago, he used to harvest 80 to 90 tonnes of sugarcane per acre, which has now slumped to 40. Variable rainfall, prolonged dry spells and frequent droughts influenced by climate change are affecting the lives of Gouda and other sugarcane farmers in Karnataka and Maharashtra in western India.

The erratic monsoon in 2018 characterised by long dry spells, followed by short spells of heavy rainfall, has affected sugarcane cultivation in Belgaum, Bagalkot, Mandya, Bijapur and Haveri districts of Karnataka and Kolhapur, Ahmednagar, Pune, Sangli and Satara districts of Maharashtra.

“During drought years, sugarcane area and production are going down drastically. Now it has become a routine feature in the tropical climatic zones of coastal Karnataka and Maharashtra,” says Sanjay Patil, Sugarcane Breeder and Principal Scientist and Head, Agriculture Research Station (ARS), Sankeshwar, Karnataka. “During the drought years to maintain the sugarcane crop is quite tough in a situation where groundwater is depleting extensively.”