How Solar Pumps Are Restoring Power to Women Farmers in Maharashtra, India

Thousands of women farmers in the Marathwada and Vidarbha regions battle the vagaries of nature and life with grit and determination
The Hindu Business Line
Maharashtra, India
How Solar Pumps Are Restoring Power to Women Farmers in Maharashtra, India

Soon after Dhondabai Nimbule’s husband committed suicide due to crop failure, her in-laws wanted her to leave the house. With her only daughter by her side, Nimbule fought a long battle with her in-laws for land ownership. For Vidya More, too, her family land became the sole means of survival after her husband ended his life and she struggled for years to regain her right over it. Infamous for farmer suicides, Osmanabad district in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra is home to many women who share the struggles of Nimbule and More.

“But the battle doesn’t end even if we get the right to cultivate on family farmland. Farming is not easy for women and one of the most difficult tasks is watering the crop. We get power supply for the water pumps only after midnight and I don’t have anyone in my family to visit the field that late. I do it myself, taking all manner of risks,” says Ranjana Doifode of Sarola village in Washi taluka. Even the midnight power supply is irregular, she adds, as she looks over the dry patch where she is cultivating common bean.

Ranjana Doifode is trying to get a standalone off-grid solar water pump installed at her field in Sarola village, Washi taluka, Osmanabad, under a government scheme
Ranjana Doifode is trying to get a standalone off-grid solar water pump installed at her field in Sarola village, Washi taluka, Osmanabad, under a government scheme / Credit: Radheshyam Jadhav.

“For the last few days I could only irrigate half of the land. The rest is dry and I need to water it at least the next 15 days,” she says worriedly. She fought to retain her right to cultivate the land after her husband died in an accident and her in-laws wanted her to leave the house and the village. “They say I will not be able to continue for long, as farming is not easy for single women,” says Doifode.

But she is not one to give up. Doifode is trying to get a standalone off-grid solar water pump installed at her farm under either the central government’s Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Utthaan Mahabhiyan (KUSUM) or the Maharashtra government’s Mukhyamantri Saur Krushi Pump Yojana, which aims to deploy one lakh off-grid solar agriculture pumps. “It will help me get a better yield. I have no source of income other than cultivation, and power supply is the only thing I need to keep my crop alive,” she adds.

Solar is the answer

A few kilometres from Sarola, in Indapur village, Shubhangi Gore is worry-free. She is cultivating multiple crops and also experimenting with organic farming, thanks to the solar water pump she installed about a year ago under the State scheme. “Now I don’t have to worry about water and electricity supply. This year we have ample water in our well and can pump anytime during the day. This pump has given me the freedom to grow what I want and opened the doors of economic development for my family,” says a beaming Gore.

This season she is cultivating sugarcane, jowar and onion among other crops. The region has witnessed droughts for several years and, even when water is available, farmers are unable to irrigate their crops due to power shortages. “There was a time when the well was brimming with water but the crop was drying in the field. But now the situation has changed. My two kids are still studying and I am sure I will be able to secure their future by saving some money. I hope for a good yield as the power problem is resolved, thanks to the solar set-up,” says Gore.

Solar is the answer to power shortage in the Marathwada region, says Mangal Waghmare, a farmer from Latur
Solar is the answer to power shortage in the Marathwada region, says Mangal Waghmare, a farmer from Latur / Credit: Radheshyam Jadhav.

Several women farmers in Osmanabad and elsewhere in the region are trying to get a solar water pump installed in their farms. They want the government to make it easier for them to apply for an installation. Many of the women have no idea they can apply online, nor do they have the means to do it.

“There are a lot of technicalities and procedures to avail oneself of the solar pump scheme, but we can’t keep complaining,” says Mangal Waghmare from Latur district. Waghmare is an enterprising farmer in Bhoisamudraga village who has successfully created a niche market for the organic crops produced by local farmers.

“I feel relaxed after the installation of a solar pump... I don’t have to depend on the mercy of the electricity company (Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited). Farming in Latur depends on the vagaries of nature. For some years there is severe drought and heavy rains in others. Power shortage added to the woes of farmers. But now solar is the answer we have,” says Waghmare. She adds that farming could turn profitable only if basic requirements like water and power supply are fulfilled.

Feminisation of power supply

In the Vidarbha and Marathwada regions of Maharashtra, life is not easy for women farmers. Babytai Wagh, whose husband Mukund committed suicide after crop failure, says many government schemes benefit only a handful of farmers. In Wagh’s Malegaon village in Karajna taluka of Vidarbha’s Washim district, hardly any women farmers have got solar water pumps.

“Women are at the last rung of the ladder in any family or government scheme. I have not applied for the [solar pump] scheme because of a land dispute with my brother-in-law. But there is zero power supply and solar pumps will help women earn a decent livelihood through cultivation,” she says.

Wagh adds that almost all the women in the region are involved in agricultural activities while the men migrate to cities for work. The Union government had pointed to the feminisation of agriculture in the Economic Survey 2017-18, as a growing number of women undertake multiple roles as cultivators, entrepreneurs, and labourers. “Rural women are responsible for the integrated management and use of diverse natural resources to meet the daily household needs. This requires that women farmers should have enhanced access to resources like land, water, credit, technology and training, which warrants critical analysis in the context of India,” the Survey stated.

The solar panel in farmer Shubhangi Gore’s land in Osmanabad that enables her to irrigate and cultivate a range of crops
The solar panel in farmer Shubhangi Gore’s land in Osmanabad that enables her to irrigate and cultivate a range of crops / Credit: Radheshyam Jadhav.

Thousands of women in the Marathwada and Vidarbha regions are fighting the battle of life with grit and determination. Suicide by men because of crop failure and agrarian distress has not deterred them from farming as it is the only source of livelihood for them and their children. Solar pump schemes have not reached all of them yet, but have definitely brought a ray of hope in their testing lives.

This story was produced with support from Internews' Earth Journalism Network. It was originally published in Hindu Business Line on 17 November 2021. This summary has been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

Banner image: Thousands of women farmers in the Marathwada and Vidarbha regions battle the vagaries of nature and life with grit and determination / Credit: Radheshyam Jadhav.

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