Agriculture

Marathwada Farmers Face Bleak Sowing Season

Although the Maharashtra government has announced a loan waiver, Marathwada’s indebted farmers still do not know how they will get the money to buy farm inputs this sowing season.

Farmers protested and threw away their onion harvest as prices crashed. Credit: Atul Deulgaonkar

Farmers protested and threw away their onion harvest as prices crashed. Credit: Atul Deulgaonkar

Barma Mind of Gangapur village in Latur district is a small farmer with 4.5 acres of land. He had taken a loan of Rs 54,000 from an agriculture cooperative society in April 2015. Much of the loan was used for the medical treatment of his son Santosh, who consumed poison in an attempt to commit suicide. The remaining money helped sowing in that season, which proved futile as there was no timely rainfall.

Mind’s agriculture cooperative society charges a 11% interest rate to a defaulter, compared to 6% to a regular payer. His debt has risen to Rs 69,000 as of March 31, 2017. He is now waiting for a loan waiver but is at a loss how to organise input costs for this sowing season. The same story has been repeated in thousands of villages in Marathwada.

The Maharashtra government has announced a farm loan waiver for marginal farmers, which is expected to cost the state government Rs 30,000 crore. It follows a similar announcement by Uttar Pradesh in April, which amounts to Rs 35,000 crore. Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis announced that the state government will provide immediate relief of Rs 10,000 to every farmer owning less than 5 acres of agricultural land. He said, “Banks would be directed to immediately give Rs 10,000 to each farmer, especially those in debt and with small and marginal landholding, to enable them to procure seeds and fertilisers.”

The suicide note of Sheetal Vyankat Wayal. Credit: Atul Deulgaonkar

The suicide note of Sheetal Vyankat Wayal. Credit: Atul Deulgaonkar

Too many riders

But a government resolution (no 0617/117/2 dated June 14, 2017) has given 19 criteria to be applied. This makes it difficult for small farmers to avail of the relief. Latur District Central Cooperative Bank Ltd, one the five best cooperative banks in the state, offered Rs 675 crore to 220,000 farmers in 2016, out of which 30,193 farmers (6%) are defaulters. “Government criteria are so clumsy that hardly 10% farmers would be eligible for this relief,” a cooperative bank official said on condition of anonymity. Sudhakar Shinde, president of the farmers council of Latur district, was also critical of the rules.

Meanwhile, the state government has asked all nationalised banks and district cooperative banks to submit information about crop loans up to Rs 50,000 given to farmers. The resolution clearly indicates that details of loan waiver would be available by the end of July. How farmers would get loans this season remains a mystery.

Messy situation

In this messy situation of loan waiver and relief, farmers cannot afford to wait. They have to finish the sowing in the next 15 days. In Latur district, where the major crop is soybean, 22% sowing is already completed. The cost of cultivation of soybean is about Rs 20,000 per acre, out of which at least Rs 10,000 is necessary in the beginning. Mind is in urgent need of at least Rs 25000 for seeds, fertiliser and labour. As usual, he is turning to relatives, friends and moneylenders, which will only increase his indebtedness.

Farmers started protesting in Maharashtra in April. Cultivators from Puntamba in Ahmednagar district decided to go on strike from June 1. The news spread to the onion bowl of India in neighbouring Nasik district and onwards to nearby districts. All farmers decided to fight for loan waivers and remunerative prices.

After a gap of almost 20 years, when Shetkari Sanghatana, a farmers union, expressed their anger, Maharashtra has seen a mood of distress and protests. Many small organisations of farmers have joined hands and changed strategy to block supply of milk and vegetables. Though the first week of June is usually full of hectic farming activities, the farmers remained united.

Swaminathan recommendations

To study the conditions of farmers, the government of India, under the chairmanship of M.S. Swaminathan, constituted the National Commission on Farmers (NCF) on November 18, 2004. The NCF submitted its final report on October 4, 2006. The Swaminathan panel report recommended that the farmers be paid 50% over and above the cost of the crop as the minimum support price (MSP) to improve their economic condition. The report’s recommendations are yet to be implemented.

Many farmers across India are demanding the implementation of the report’s recommendations. For the first time after independence, the first week of June saw furious farmers take to the streets in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and other parts of the country. “Which crop should we opt for sowing? We do not know. Government officials do not guide and market does not indicate anything,” 72-year-old Rajabhau Deshmukh of Patoda village in Beed district of Maharashtra told VillageSquare.in.

Vijay Jawandhiya, coordinator of the Farmers’ Coordination Committee in Maharashtra, explains: “Market prices of cereal, pulses, oil seeds, spices have crashed. Last year pigeon pea fetched at Rs 2000 per quintal. So Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed to grow more to arrest import of pulses. Farmers responded and produced 74% more. India, the world’s largest producer, importer and consumer of pulses, has set another record by harvesting a massive 221 lakh tons, a quantum jump from the previous year’s 163 lakh tons.”

Price crash due to imports

However, just before harvesting in December 2016, the government of India imported 63 lakh tons of pigeon pea from Myanmar and market prices fell to Rs 2700-3500 per quintal. The MSP for pigeon pea is Rs 5050 per quintal but the government of Maharashtra stopped to purchase. Soybean prices dropped from Rs 4000 per quintal to Rs 2500, triggering farmer protests.

On April 14, 21-year-old Sheetal Vyankat Wayal from Bhise-Wagholi village in Latur ended her life by jumping into a well. In her suicide note, Sheetal wrote: “My parents are poor and they don’t have money for my marriage. I am ending my life to lessen my father’s burden and to end the dowry practice in my Maratha community.” Exactly a year ago, Mohini Bhise (18) from the same village committed suicide so that her poor farmer father didn’t have to sell his one-acre of land for her marriage.

Now even the optimistic youth are losing hope. Climate change and rising expenses with diminishing returns are making the lives of farmers far too tough. In Maharashtra, 3,146 farmers in 2013, 2,568 farmers in 2014, 3,228 farmers in 2015 and 3,552 farmers in 2016 ended their lives, according to official data. This year may see a similarly high number of farmer suicides, even after declaration of a loan waiver.

Swaminathan, the father of the Green Revolution, says that farmers need improved and stable income and not loan waivers. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Green Revolution and the 11th anniversary of the submission of his report. While reacting to the killing of five farmers while protesting in Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh, he urged, “Long-term solutions are important to ensure that farming remains an occupation of choice among majority of our country’s rural population.”

Atul Deulgaonkar is a journalist based in Latur in Maharashtra.  

This article originally appeared on Village Square. It has been edited for clarity and to meet style guidelines.