Geography, Population and Agriculture in Sangli (India)

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Geography and Population

Maharashtra, with 307,762 km and a population in the region of 78 million, is the third largest federal state in India. Located on the western side of the continent, the coastline to Arabian Sea forms its western border. To the north and northwest Maharashtra borders on the federal states of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, to the southwest lie Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, and to the south Maharashtra borders on Goa. The region shows a variety of characteristics: to the west there are the Konkan lowlands, a narrow strip along the coast which is marked by numerous small hills. Most of the region is dissected by the Western Ghats running from north to south over a distance of 640 km whose mountains reach heights of up to 1,340 m. These continue to the east as the Deccan Plateau which is a plain dissected by fertile river valleys which rise in the Western Ghats and run eastwards crossing the Indian subcontinent to flow into the sea in the Bay of Bengal. The main project area, comprising the districts of Sangli and Kolhapur, are marked by this type of countryside: whilst Kolhapur lies in the mountainous area of the Ghats, the district of Sangli is located in the fertile lowlands of the Krishna and Sina rivers.

The climate is tropical with a mean minimum temperature of 19ºC in January and maximum day temperatures of around 38ºC in May. The monsoon brings the region a marked rainy period between June and October with an annual precipitation of around 2,000 mm on the coast and in the East of Maharashtra. Particularly the Ghats and neighbouring regions suffer from distinct periods of drought. There are four seasons: between March and May it is hot and dry, from June to September it is hot and wet, from October to November it is warm and humid and from December to February it is cool and dry.

Maharashtra in the Central Indian "Tribal Belt" is the home of countless peoples and ethnic groups who in some case have immigrated from other areas. About one third of the population belongs to varying indigenous tribes although the proportion fluctuates from district to district; in the extreme east of the country there are around 60% Adivasis.

Although Maharashtra is one of the most modern states in the country about 30% in urban centres and 40% in the country live below the poverty line.

Economy and Agriculture

Bombay, the capital of Maharashtra is at the same time India's most modern and most bustling city. About half of the foreign trade of India is handled through the city harbour. The city is the most important centre in the country for the processing industry: numerous production plants for textiles, vehicles, the pharmaceutical and petrochemical industry have settled in and around Bombay; the city is also an important centre of trade for the country.

Agricultural production is thus more intensive and generally better organised here than in other federal states, it is more developed and shows higher productivity. Despite intensive industrialisation, agriculture remains the most important source of income for two thirds of the population in this region. The main crops which are cultivated are rice, millet, sorghum, wheat, peanuts. Cash crops like cotton, sugar cane, grapes, tobacco and oranges are regionally important.

Ownership of land is unequally distributed: 8% of the rural households have about 40% of agricultural land. The majority of farms - 58% of all households - have less than 2 hectares of cropland; their share in the total area of agricultural land amounts to 14%. In the two districts with the highest number of biogas customers the majority consists of smallholders. About 50% of farmers own less than 1 hectare of land, 30% own 1 - 2 hectares and 20% have more than 2 hectares. In the project area the average area owned by biogas customers amounts to 3 acres (1.2 hectares). Their most important products are sugar cane, sorghum and wheat.

The districts of Sangli and Kolhapur in the south of the state where the Shivsadan biogas programme surveyed is located, continue to be extensively agricultural areas. The emphasis here is on the sugar industry and on the cooperative movement of Maharashtra. The Cooperative Farmers' Association has around 32,000 farmers as members. These and another 10,000 non-members from a total of 151 villages in the two districts cultivate sugar cane over a total cropland area of 40,000 acres (approx. 16,200 hectares). Every year around 1 million tonnes of sugar cane are delivered to the factory at Sangli. The Sangli Sugar Mill belongs to the cooperative and is the third largest sugar mill in India. The mill, employing approx. 2,500 workers and salaried staff, generates approx. 850 million Rs (approx. 50 million DM) annually. Apart from sugar, alcohol, acetic acid and animal feedstuffs are also produced. The cooperative not only provides an income for the 2,500 employees, the 32,000 members and the 10,000 farmers who are non-members but also for around 25,000 seasonal workers. Biogas technology is also promoted by the cooperative; a subsidy of RS 500 for building a plant is paid to members on application. Also bank guarantees allow access to credits for building biogas plants.


A negative result of the intensive irrigation system is the salinisation of the soils which leads to continuing infertility of the areas concerned. One third of the agricultural land around the district capital of Sangli has become useless due to salinisation. This intensive irrigation has also resulted in a reduction in the groundwater level which falls to more than 100m below the surface only a few kilometres away from watercourses.

In addition, the absolutely insufficient or non-existent disposal of (agro-)industrial wastewater is leading to problems; in Sangli district the direct inflow into irrigation canals and the Krishna river of 700 m3 of wastewater from the sugar mill every day is a permanent problem.

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