Mumbai: Following criticism over sugarcane crop guzzling potable water, particularly in drought-prone Marathwada, the State government framed a policy for shifting 50 per cent of sugarcane farming to drip irrigation by 2019.
A report on sugar price policy for 2015-16 by Union Agriculture Ministry had highlighted that Maharashtra’s sugarcane cultivation, which is less than 4 per cent of the total cropped area, consumes 70 per cent of water needed for irrigation.
According to the statistics, the sugarcane fields cover 10 lakh hectares across the State. But, only 2.5 lakh hectares have been shifted to drip irrigation, while the rest of the crop on 7.25 lakh hectares is watered using the traditional flood system, which consumes three times the water required for drip irrigation.
The State government drafted a policy to encourage sugarcane farmers to shift to drip irrigation and would be introducing a low interest loan scheme for making the switch. It was approved in the cabinet on Tuesday.
The average cost of drip irrigation set for a hectare is Rs 85,400, for which the government will disburse loans at 2 per cent interest. The government and sugar factories will bear the remaining share of interest at 4 per cent and 1.25 per cent respectively. The farmers will have to clear the loan in five years.
Currently, the State gives capital subsidy of up to 30 per cent on the total expenditure to encourage drip irrigation. However, delay in release of funds and inadequate assistance has kept farmers away from drip irrigation.
This new policy will help farmers secure loans at just 2 per cent interest. In next two years, the government is expecting to shift about 50 per cent of the irrigation to drip. The State will have to bear the burden of Rs 180 crore towards its share of 4 per cent interest on loans for two years,” said an official from agriculture department.