news Tuesday, August 19, 2014 - 05:30
Monalisa Das| The News Minute | August 12, 2014 | 11:55 am IST Over 100 farmers have reportedly committed suicide in Telangana in the last two months over failure of crops and inability to pay back loans.  According to a report in The Economic Times, the rainfall deficit in India’s newly formed state was 48 per cent until August 5, a stark contrast to the 19 per cent national shortfall. The report also states that ‘some 50 lakh farmers owe at least Rs 50,000 crore in crop loans to banks’. Speaking to The News Minute, Uma Sudhir, Resident Editor, NDTV, discusses the various issues that have given rise to this crisis today. Uma Sudhir, a journalist who has done extensive coverage on farmer suicides in the region, also talks about the reasons that drives farmers to take such extreme measures and where the government could be at fault.  In India, agriculture is mostly rain fed or largely bore well dependent. Adding to the farmers’ difficulties is the acute power shortage that they have to deal with regularly. These are some of the factors that often lead to crop failures, pushing farmers deep into debt who then see ending their lives as the only solution to the problem.  “In the last 10-15 years, there has been a spurt in suicides in the region”, says Uma.  Caring Citizens Collective (CCC), is an NGO in Hyderabad that works with families of farmers who have committed suicide, promotes sustainable practices and helps women farmers to earn a livelihood.  Sajaya K, Executive director of CCC echoes Uma when she says that the suicides in recent months are only part of a trend that has been going on from several years.  “This happens every year. Telangana is more prone to such distress because cultivation is rain-fed and there are no proper water facilities”, Sajaya states. “In the last 20 years, around 20,000 farmers have committed suicide in the Telangana region alone”, she adds pointing out to the worrying situation that is nothing short of an epidemic.  Cotton Production Cotton production in the country has gone up tremendously. India, from an importer, has become an exporter of cotton. Fifty percent of districts in the state, like Warangal, only cultivate cotton now. This is a good development, with many sectors reaping the benefits, except the farmers, explains Uma. “The farmer himself has not prospered. He has not benefited, neither has he been able to improve his ability to have a sustainable livelihood”, she states. She also points out that the cultivation of pulses and oil seeds have gone down simultaneously, to an extent where we have begun importing them. “It is good that we are producing wheat and paddy too ( that are water guzzlers). But at times we have an over production and a lot of it goes to waste”, she adds. Role of Government The Telangana government has come into spotlight for the huge number of farmer suicides recorded within a few months of its inception. However, Uma says that Telangana is just carrying forward the legacy of the previous government and it will take some time for changes to occur.  Sajaya too, states the same. The previous government started around 70 major irrigation projects without paying any heed to minor traditional projects, on which most farmers depend. “Those projects were ill-conceived, ill-designed and poorly-planned. Also, the corruption in the system made it almost similar to a scam”, Uma states. She adds that one of the reasons behind the acute water shortage in the region is also because of a steady decline in the tank irrigation system. “The tanks that were built during the Nizam period in the region were favoured by the terrain and topography of the region. But over the years there most have become defunct, simply due to neglect.” Major Issues There are several state level issues that need to be dealt with. Despite having rivers, the state is unable to provide enough water for agriculture purposes. Also, the focus is on water intensive cash crops. These regions, similar to Karnataka and Vidharbha, are suitable to grow crops like millets that require less water and to some extent are drought resistant, says Uma. So then why don’t farmers switch to other varieties of crops?  Sajaya of CCC is of the view that it is not easy to change to other varieties of crops simply because the government’s entire policy supports paddy, cotton, maize and wheat. “Farmers will not get loans for other crops”, she asserts. Hence such a change cannot be brought without the support of the government.  Farmers also prefer to stick to cotton because it has the potential to generate surplus revenue, says Uma. The reason cotton is called a cash crop is because it brings in a lot of crash. But, she warns, the recovery risk in cotton cultivation is very high; and at times farmers are simply not equipped financially or otherwise to take that sort of risk.  “Once a farmer sows cotton seeds, he expects a good yield. And if he does not get one in that season, he will grow the same crop again in the next year in hope of a better produce. At times, after the farmer has sown the seeds and the cost of cultivation rises midway, a farmer is forced to stop cultivation”, says Uma explaining how this continues like a vicious cycle in which farmers get sucked into all the time.  However, even if the produce turns to be good, this enables farmers to eat decently for some time, but it is not enough to pay off their debts.  Where has the government gone wrong?  “The government does not provide any institutionalized support to the farmers”, says Sajaya, adding that farmers are often left to fend for themselves if the crops fail.  The lack of water is one of the main issues affecting farmers adversely today. Apart from that are the new kinds of crops that are capital intensive. These crops need more investment in terms of fertilizers and pesticides. However, there is absolutely no institutional support from the government and farmers have to turn to private money lenders, she adds.  Uma breaks down the issues that the government has failed to look into when it comes to farmers and their issues.  There is a huge failure of extension services that can give advice to farmers, regarding various issues including information on soil structure and seeds. “The only advice they get is from traders from whom farmers buy seeds. Traders also happen to be the agents who lend them money. They too at times have vested interests. In a sense, there is no neutral advisory available to farmers”, states Uma.  Farmers do not have any information regarding marketing. What price should he get for his produce? What is the possibility of future trading? Rates of cultivation change drastically and the farmer fails to keep up with it simply because he has no or very little information about what is going on in the market.  “The farmer does not have the freedom to sell his products when he wants to, to whom he wants to, and at what price he wants to. We have failed to evolve or improve the farmer’s risk taking abilities”, Uma adds. No crop insurance, poor ware housing facilities and focus on mono-cropping only add towards worsening the situation.  “These people continue to live on the fringes of society”, Uma says. She also states a 2001-2011 census, according to which some 90 lakh people have moved away from farming as an occupation. This has not guaranteed them a better job and livelihood as most end up as labourers in the real estate business. The government has not created any jobs from them. And these people neither have any social security, nor do they have any other option to turn to.  Growth in agriculture not proportional to the increase in farmers’ income Most farmers who commit suicide do not even own land of their own. Around 70 per cent of farmers in India are small farmers. Uma says, “the growth in agriculture has not increased the income of farmers. A class 4 employee of the government earns more than a mid-level farmer. Their situation is nothing short of pathetic”. What is the extent of the impact caused by such suicides? The impact of such suicides exceeds far beyond just affecting immediate family members of the deceased. It affects several future generations too. Their family members carry on working to pay off their debts.  The farmer is unable to create any assets in his life. Whatever little he inherits is divided and passed on to his children and this continues till there is nothing left to divide any more. Uma describes the incidence of a sarpanch of a village who once owned 20 acres of land. The man who is around 65-70 years old, today has none of his land left with him and he now works as a watchman for a farm.  “The climate change has also played a major role in the agriculture. Agriculture based entirely on seasons that are unpredictable affects morale and confidence of farmers”, says Sajaya. Issues to focus on “I do not believe in loan waivers”, Uma says. It does not address the underlying issues. Unless this is done, the problem will keep coming back or consume the farmers ultimately.  There is also a need to check the effects it has on future generations. “It is unfair to call our farmers, who provide food to us, and their families a burden. They do deserve a better life and a brighter future”, Uma exclaims.  Media coverage The media’s coverage on such issues is almost always not enough or not sustained.  “Media reporting has become structured. We have become TRP oriented. Most national media organizations cater to the urban sector. Who would be interested in stories from rural India?”, asks Uma.  What does the future hold?Sajaya of CCC feels that the situation is very desperate now. “And if not checked, will continue to deteriorate in the future.” Uma, however, seems to have some hope. Referring to a recent speech by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Uma says that the need of the hour is to have discussion at a national level. The PM talked about a lot of plans including more income to farmers, and Uma is hopeful that it turns out to be true.
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