Nagendra, a 50-year-old farmer from Kadidoddi village, Kosigi mandal, recently moved to Guntur to work as an agricultural labourer in the Mirchi crops, after he suffered crop loss. Every year tens of thousands of marginal farmers and agricultural labourers from Kurnool migrate to districts like Guntur and Nalgonda and even Bengaluru and Hyderabad in search of work.
Nagendra along with his family of four now lives in a temporary shelter in the outskirts of the town. He took along his school-going son, a student of Grade Six. He will be there along with his father for two more months. “Who will look after him if he stays back. There is no work at home. We have to do this,” said Nagendra, who earns Rs 350 per day in Guntur.
"In the village, I own two acres of land. I cultivated paddy on one acre and cotton on the other. I lost the paddy due to heavy rain. Cotton yield was low. I borrowed around Rs 35,000 from various people and was unable to return the money," said Nagendra. Migration of agricultural workers from Kurnool to other regions in search of livelihood happens everyevery year. But this time it is higher than before as several farmers have faced huge losses.
K Ramudu, ward member in Kosigi village in Kurnool, said more than 1,000 people from the twenty wards in the local body have migrated to different cities in search of work. Kosigi village is in Kosigi Mandal, which has 28 villages. “This time people have migrated even before the harvest, they knew that they were at loss. Marginal farmers also migrated this time,” he said. He added that because the yield was so low, there was no need for too many people to help with harvesting. A report in The Hindu in September 2022 said Tobacco Streak Virus affected 10% to 15% of the total cropped area of BT Cotton in Kurnool.
Kosigi in Kurnool district is one of the most backward places in the region, said Prabhakar Reddy, district secretary of Communist Party of India (Marxist). "The region is one of the most illiterate mandals in the country. Literacy is around 33%, which is nearly half of the state average,” he said.
Prabhakar Reddy said many children in the villages stop attending school as they go to work with their parents who migrate for work. This is also contributing to a rise in the rate of child marriages in the region, he added. Local media reports have shown that in a backward mandal like Kosigi, absenteeism rates in schools are close to 50%.
Devender Babu, a school teacher at Zilla Parishad High School (ZPHS) in Kowthalam mandal told TNM that out of the 950 students in the school only 500 are attending the school on an average. “The students who return to school are mostly boys,” he said. Children who accompany their parents lose out on learning skills and find it hard to keep up with other students. “This makes them less confident,” he said.
Although there are no official statistics, past government interventions have tried to address some of the issues. The government established seasonal hostels in the district observing the migration patterns. Here, parents typically leave young children, generally those under the age of fourteen or fifteen, because they can take the older ones with them to work. Venu Gopal, director of AP Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, told TNM that there are currently 71 temporary hostels in the Kurnool district, each housing 50 children which sums up to 3,550 students in total.
A nearly empty classroom at Arlabanda's Zilla Parishad School in Kosigi Mandal
Most of the marginal farmers and agricultural labourers belong to backward classes or Scheduled Castes. “When the yield is reduced people migrate. This trend is there every year,” Prabhakar Reddy said.
Venkateshwarulu, a former sarpanch of Adoni panchayat in Adoni Mandal, said the reason for migration is low quality seeds. "We believe this is the reason for some plants growing well and others not growing well in the same farmland. The average yield per acre is around seven to eight quintals, but this time some farmers only got two quintals after investing up to Rs 45,000,” he said. Due to excess rainfall the crop was damaged and exposed to several viruses, he added that in Adoni mandal more than ten thousand people left the place for seasonal work. Farmers here primarily cultivate chilies, cotton, and onions.
People from villages in Adoni mandal are migrating in large numbers this time, said Venkateshwarulu. The chilli crop is only harvested once a year, before the rains in May-June, and the harvest is in December-January. “For seven weeks, the people have not received payment for their labour as part of the National Rural Employment Guarantee (NREG) scheme. Now who will fill their stomachs?” he asks.
The NREG scheme is managed at the district level by the District Water Management Agency (DWMA). According to a district official, migration is nothing new to the area and has always been present. "The NREG payments get delayed but they will ultimately get them," he explained. He agreed that the money is insufficient to support a family.
Ramakrishna, a member of Rythu Sangham, a farmers’ organisation, said, nearly six lakh acres of cotton crop was cultivated by the people in the district this year. “Last year when the crop was damaged, farmers with even little yield got a good price as there was produce. So this time more farmers opted for cotton.”
He said it’s the responsibility of the government to ensure there are only quality seeds in the market and support the farmers in case of crop damage due to excessive rains.