Debt trap turns death trap for Vidarbha farmers

Yogita Limaye Yogita LimayeCNN-IBN

Mumbai: A mother’s tears, a son’s shaved head are telltale signs that death has struck the household in Vidarbha’s Wardha district.

Kamlabai Bhoyar’s 28-year-old son Umesh committed suicide on November 17. He was worried about the Rs 1.5 lakh loan he’d taken. It’s a double tragedy for Kamlabai, whose older son Vishwas Bhoyar also committed suicide 2 years ago.

Her 5-year-old grandson Sumit is all she has left. But even at the age of 65, her resolve to educate him is strong.

Kamla Bhoyar, Umesh’s Mother, says, “No farming now. Even if I have to wash vessels, I will educate him. I don’t want him to become a farmer.”

Kamlabai may be on her own now but she’s certainly not alone in her plight. In the Raghatate household, a family is trying to move on from the loss of the home’s patriarch Jeevan Raghatate. His 21-year-old son Mayur doesn’t know how to start repaying the 6 lakh rupee loan his father had taken.

There is a sense of hopelessness in every one of these little homes in Vidarbha, where every year the farmer wonders what price he’ll get for his cotton. This year the farmer has seen massive support from the opposition with elections just around the corner.

The state government is yet to announce a bonus even as cotton farmers in Vidarbha continue to commit suicide.

Experts have slammed the government for inconsistent policies on cotton prices.

Chandrakant Wankhade, Senior Journalist & Farmer Activist, says, “When the price is high in the open market, they don’t allow them to make profit. And when there is slowdown, they don’t even protect the farmers.”

The cotton crisis has pushed 123 farmers to suicide in 2011, says the state government, while activists say the number is 672. The statistics belie the human stories of Vidarbha where the future continues to be the dark.

Five Innovations that are Boosting Soil Fertility

Nourishing the PlanetAgricultureFertilizerLivestockPermacultureSoilWasteWater

By Joseph Zaleski

Crops need air, sun, water, and soil to thrive. When it comes to soil, however, quality usually trumps quantity. Rich and fertile land boasts a healthy mixture of phosphorous, potassium, and nitrogen, along with water, air, and soil micro-organisms that break down organic matter.

But what happens when these elemental building blocks are disrupted? The Green Revolution of the mid-20thcentury implemented a variety of practices, including the widespread use of pesticides and fertilizers. Yet, improperly applying the Green Revolution’s principles can sometimes do more harm than good. Overfertilizing and destructive land use practices, including deforestation, can deplete vital nutrients in soil, and no amount of inorganic fertilizer can replace fundamental topsoil. In addition, higher annual temperatures, more extreme weather events and persistent droughts, and increasing population are also exhausting the land. These conditions are creating a cycle of soil degeneration which is stunting agricultural yields and presenting farmers with a new crop of concerns.

Today, Nourishing the Planet provides five methods that farmers and scientists are using to combat rising soil infertility.

Soil is an ecosystem unto itself. It’s what we don’t see underground that makes or breaks a harvest. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

1. Cover Cropping / Green Manure: In our State of the World 2011 report, agroecologist and author Roland Bunch defines cover crops / green manure as “any plant, whether a tree, bush, or vine, that is used by a farmer to…improve soil fertility or control weeds.” In practice, cover cropsare planted alongside or interspersed with other crops to cut soil-eroding wind, prevent overexposure to the sun, and stimulate a healthy soil system. Just as farmers will turn to manure to bolster the soil, they can also clip and spread cover crops’ leaves as organic green manure.

Cover Cropping / Green Manure in Action: According to Roland Bunch, there are more than a million farmers now actively using cover crops / green manure worldwide. In Africa alone, there are over 120 plant species that are being used or could be used for this purpose. One promising example is the cowpea (also known as the black-eyed pea). This legume is both a nitrogen-fixer, which means that it takes nitrogen from the air and replenishes it in the soil, and deeply rooted, which makes it resistant to drought. Furthermore, the cowpea itself is a nutritious staple food for both people and animals.

2. Microdosing Fertilizer: According to the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), microdosing is defined as“the application of small, affordable quantities of fertilizer with the seed at planting time or as top dressing 3 to 4 weeks after emergence.” This precise process stands in stark contrast with the field-wide fertilization used by many farmers. Fertilizers are often very expensive for farmers in the developing world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.Microdosing can help reduce fertilizer costs, while also targeting the seeds farmers want to cultivate.

Microdosing in Action: ICRISAT has initiated microdosing programs in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, reaching over 25,000 small-holder farmers. The Institute reports that sorghum and millet yields have responded well to the technique – boosting yields between 44 and 120 percent – and that incomes have also increased by as much as 130 percent for some families. ICRISAT is working with agricultural extension services to better instruct farmers on how to effectively measure and apply fertilizer. The Institute has also lobbied private fertilizer companies to distribute their product in premeasured and prepackaged microdoses.

3. Using Wastewater for Irrigation: As urban areas grow in developing countries, residents and governments are struggling to find ways to properly dispose sewage and waste water.  The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization notes that wastewater contains most of the essential elements of fertilizer in the proper amounts. Effective treatment and application of wastewater could dually contribute to healthier urban areas and provide vital, organic fertilizer to rural areas.

Wastewater Irrigation in Action: Using effluent wastewater as an agricultural fertilizer could be an easy way for farmers, especially in cities, to fertilize their crops; but it can be risky. As Pay Drechsel wrote in State of the World 2011, “In Ghana and surrounding areas, polluted stream water is often used to irrigate vegetable crops. The problem is that the water often contains biological and chemical substances that are harmful to human health.” TheBill and Melinda Gates Foundation, however, recently announced a program that may make this a more practical option for farmers. The Foundation will be spending US$42 million in sanitation grants over the next few years to “reinvent the toilet.” The hope is that this money will help build better human waste infrastructure in urban areas, promote improved sanitation, and effectively capture the wastewater for use in energy and fertilizer.

4. Reintegrating Livestock: As many as one billion people around the world “rely on farm animals for their livelihoods,” according to researchers from the International Livestock Research Institute. But animals are not only important for their egg and meat production, but also because they can be integrated into larger agricultural systems. Animal manure can be an effective – and inexpensive – way to boost the health of organic topsoil.

Livestock Integration in Action:International organizations are beginning to recognize the potential and value of these integrated farming systems. The African Wildlife Foundation’s Heartland program and the multinationalTerrAfrica project are both promoting sustainable land and water management practices in drought-prone areas of the continent. In Botswana, the Mokolodi Nature Reserve is both a wildlife preserve and an educational center, sending staff to teach local farmers sustainable ecoagriculture and integrated livestock farming techniques.

5. Preventing Nitrogen Leaching (Inhibitors): Nitrogen is essential to healthy soil. Chemical fertilizers andnitrogen-fixing plants, such as legumes, can help provide nitrogen to soils. Yet, nitrogen, like water, follows a cycle that includes leaching or escaping from the ground as a gas. Poor land management, erosion, overfertilization, and chemical runoff can all contribute to nitrogen depletion, which will leave the land dry and unusable. To combat nitrogen loss, soil scientists have been experimenting with chemical inhibitors that will keep vital nutrients in the ground longer.

Inhibitors in Action: Studies show that chemical inhibitors do actively stimulate the nitrogen cycle, keep more nitrogen in the soil for longer periods, and may increase crop yields. Dr. Bob Hoeft at the University of Illinoisrecorded 15-20 bushel / acre increases after using chemical inhibitors. Internationally, tests in Brazil found a marked increase in sugarcane production after applying the chemical nitrogen-fixers. These inhibitors are not the absolute solution to nitrogen depletion, but if they are used in small doses properly with natural nitrogen-fixers and better land management, they can rebuild healthy soil into the future.

Are labor and knowledge-intensive farming practices practicable in regions suffering from pervasive soil infertility? Are there any examples of farm extension services keeping up with the educational demands of these techniques?

Joseph Zaleski is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To read more about boosting soil fertility: What Works: Farming with TreesWhat Works: Healing the Soil with Agriculture, and Innovation of the Week: School Food Gardens Support Food Security and Education in the Cape Flats.


Sukhpal Singh

With the Union Cabinet deciding to allow 51 per cent foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail on Thursday the way has been cleared for the entry of global supermarket giants in India. There are doubts and fears amid hopes for long-term gains

Photo: S Chandan


ONE of the conditions for 51% FDI in multi-brand retail proposed is that the players will source at least 60% of their farm produce requirements from small farmers. A small farmer is defined as one with up to 10 hectares. It is important to understand implications of FDI in food retail for various stakeholders.

The more important questions to be asked on the issue of FDI in retail are: Does it really help farmers or small farmers? Does it improve efficiency of food supply chains and help lower food inflation which India is grappling with? And of course, how does it impact traditional food retailers’ livelihood?

Small farmers may not gain

The operations of domestic fresh food supermarkets in India have not made any difference to the producer’s share in the consumer’s rupee so far (one of the arguments of the DIPP discussion paper for permitting FDI in retail) other than lowering the cost of marketing of the producers as supermarkets have collection centres in producing areas unlike the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) markets (mandis) which are in distant cities.

But these supermarkets will buy only ‘A ‘grade produce, that too on open market-based prices, and only a part of the output of farmers, who end up going to an APMC mandi to dispose of the remaining/rejected produce. The chains procure from “contact” farmers without any commitment to buy regularly as they do not want to share the risk of growers. Thus, the involvement of supermarket chains with producers is low and there is no delivery of supply chain efficiency as many of them have already wound up e.g in Gujarat.

Supermarkets and malpractices

Though the move to open up Indian markets to foreign retailers is meant to benefit small farmers, the condition of having 10 hectares of land will leave most of them out. There are other problems too:

  • Domestic supermarket performance so far does not give any hope that FDI-driven supermarkets will be any different in terms of benefits to small farmers
  • Buying and selling power of supermarkets due to market concentration will come in the way of benefits to farmers and consumers.
  • Traditional retailers will suffer a loss of livelihood due to competition from supermarkets
  • Many malpractices by supermarkets will not let farmers benefit
  • Supermarkets do not lead to lower food prices if we see global evidence.

Key policy initiatives

Until now only 51% FDI in single-brand retail and 100% FDI in wholesale cash and carry trade was allowed. The paper put up by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) for public discussion and comments in mid-2010 and the 2010-11 Economic Survey had argued for FDI in food retail trade in India. In mid-2011 an inter-ministerial group also recommended FDI in retail to control food inflation. The following policy initiatives can be taken to safeguard the interests of local stake-holders:

  • Slow down food supermarket expansion through mechanisms like zoning, business licences and trading restrictions.
  • Strengthen competition laws and regulation of supermarkets
  • Give legal protection to farmers and suppliers as is done in Japan
  • Permit only formal contract farming, not ‘contact’ farming
  • Set up an independent retail commission to supervise and regulate supermarkets to protect interests of suppliers, consumers and labour and support to local retailers and farmers
  • Establish multi-stakeholder initiatives in food value chains and provide support to small producers and traditional food retailers.
  • Producers’ organisations and the NGOs need to monitor and negotiate more equitable supply contracts with the supermarkets.
  • Government should encourage producer companies and farmers’ co-operatives for collective bargaining with supermarkets


The noise about benefits to small-holders in high-value crops (read fruits and vegetables) due to supermarket linkages is exaggerated as these crops account for only 2% of the gross cropped area, and the direct linkage is either absent or pretty weak. This is not likely to change even with FDI in retail.

Further, due to the sheer size and buying power of foreign supermarkets, the producer prices may be depressed. In the UK there was a negative relation between the relative market share of a supermarket and the price paid to the suppliers in relation to the average price. The UK supermarket chain Tesco paid its suppliers 4% below the average price paid by retailers.

There have been a large number of supermarket malpractices across the globe which include payments to be on the supplier list (listing fees), threats of delisting if the supplier price is not low enough, payments and discounts from suppliers for promoting/opening new stores, rebate from producers as a percentage of their supermarket sales, minus margins whereby suppliers are not allowed to supply at prices higher than the competitor price, delayed payments, lowering prices at the last minute when the supplier has no alternative, changing quantity/quality standards without notice, just-in-time systems to avoid storage/inventory costs, removing suppliers from the list without good reason, charging high interest on credit, using tough contracts and penalties for any failure to supply.

If it is not misreported, the limit of 10 hectares is laughable as there are hardly 1% farmers who have more than 10 hectares of land. Thus, putting this condition is no good as it is too broad and covers 99% of farmers and, therefore, does not differentiate among farmers at all. Even if it is assumed that it is 10 acres (4 hectares), it will be more than 94% of all farmers (2005-06). How does this conditionality help really small-holders in whose name the permission is being granted? The retail players may work with the top layer (5%) of these farmers and still meet the conditions.

Small retailers to be hit

The supermarket expansion also leads to employment loss in the value chain as compared to 18 jobs created by a street vendor, 10 by a traditional retailer and eight by a shop vendor in Vietnam, a supermarket like Big C needed just four persons for the same volume of produce handled. Metro Cash & Carry employed 1.2 workers per tonne of tomatoes sold in Vietnam compared with 2.9 persons employed by traditional wholesale channel for the same quantity sold. The spread of supermarkets led to 14% reduction in the share of “mom and pop” stores in Thailand within four years of FDI permission. In India 33-60% of the traditional fruit and vegetable retailers reported 15-30% decline in footfalls, 10-30% decline in sales and 20-30% decline in incomes across the cities of Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Chandigarh, the largest impact being in Bangalore, which is one of the most supermarket penetrated cities in India.

Another proposed condition is that FDI in retail will be permitted in all cities with a population of more than one million. The question to be asked is: How many cites in India are really below one million population and how long? Further, given the size of the supermarket retail stores, they may be located in one city but their coverage in terms of potential clientele will extend to neighbouring towns as well.

Impact on food inflation

So far as the role of FDI-driven food supermarkets in containing food inflation is concerned, the evidence from Latin American (Mexico, Nicaragua, Argentina), African (Kenya, Madagascar) and Asian countries (Thailand, Vietnam, India) shows that the supermarket prices for fruits and vegetables and other basic foods were higher than those in traditional markets.

Also, the lower procurement prices through direct procurement from farmers need not lead to lower consumer prices in supermarket chains as procurement prices are more about the bargaining power of buyers and suppliers. Even if it is accepted that supermarkets are able to offer lower prices, the low-income households may face higher food prices because of reasons of distance from supermarkets, and higher prices charged by supermarkets in low-income areas. Thus, there is no direct correspondence between modern retail and lower food prices and, thus, better food security of the poor consumers. Therefore, the inflation containment logic for FDI in food retail does not stand ground given the empirical evidence from across the globe.

Thus, supermarkets would lead to the concentration of market power, with upstream suppliers facing buyer power in terms of lower prices and consumers (buyers) facing higher prices due to lower competition, besides traditional retailers suffering a decline in their business.

Need for regulation

The biggest fear in India is not that FDI in retail per se is worse than domestic corporate investment for farmers or traditional retailers; it is that there may not be adequate institutions and effective governance mechanisms to regulate and monitor operations of the global retailers.

If the monitoring of wholesale ‘cash n carry’ stores so far is anything to go by, there is no regulation and the norms are flouted openly at the store level by the existing players. They are found to do retail sales in the grab of wholesale as the size of a single purchase (minimum ticket size) was just Rs. 500 or Rs. 1,000 which does not seem to be governed by any regulation.

Given the global and Indian experience of supermarkets so far, it is important to slow down food supermarket expansion by mechanisms like zoning, business licences and trading restrictions. Further, there is need to limit buying power of the supermarkets by strengthening the competition laws like the legal protection given to subcontracting industries in Japan in their relations with large firms. These provisions are monitored by the Fair Trade Commission. If contract or “contact” farming is only another name for subcontracting prevalent in industry, then it is only logical to extend such legal provisions with necessary modifications to farming contracts.

Also, provisions for legally binding and clearly worded rules for a fair treatment of suppliers and an independent authority like a retail commission to supervise and regulate supermarkets are required. This authority should ban the buying of products below cost and selling below cost, improve local traditional markets for small growers, delay the pace of supermarket expansion, establish multi-stakeholder initiatives in the chains and provide support to small producers and traditional food retailers.

Producers’ organisations and NGOs need to monitor and negotiate more equitable contracts with supermarkets. The government should play an enabling role through legal provisions and institutional mechanisms like helping farmer co-operatives, producer companies and producer groups to facilitate the smooth functioning of supermarket linkages and avoid ill-effects.

The writer is a Professor, Institute of Economic Growth (IEG), Delhi.



Govt. is misleading the Nation on Farmer suicides: VJAS

NAGPUR: November 30th 2011

The claim of Indian Govt. that farmers Suicide by farmers have dropped drastically in the current year due to government initiatives is misleading as country is under severe agrarian crisis due to crop failure in major state suicide prone states Maharashtra,Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka as there is severe cotton ,soybean  and paddy crop failure reported and farm suicide spiral has restarted  and ground situation very grim  as debt and distress are forcing innocent farmers kill themselves, ,Kishor Tiwari of Vidarbha Janandolan Samiti informed in press note today.
“We have been documenting farmers suicides reported in vidarbha since 1997 and The National Crime Records Bureau –NCRB officially published actual figures of farmers suicides and we have noted that NCRB figure is three times our recorded figure but Minister of State for Agriculture Harish Rawat said in a written reply to the Rajya Sabha has completely contradicted NCRB own record of farmers suicides and mislead nation this is very rubbish and unfortunate’ Tiwari added..
Here is official link of NCRB which gives official figure
NCRB figure is 3141Agri.Mimistry fig. 454
NCRB figure is 4147Agri.Mimistry fig. 347
NCRB figure is 2525
Agri.Mimistry fig. 152
NCRB figure is 2666
Agri.Mimistry fig.1181
NCRB figure is 2585
Agri.Mimistry fig.138
NCRB figure is 1963
Agri.Mimistry fig. 114
It’s official. The country has seen over a quarter of a million farmers’ suicides between 1995 and 2010. The National Crime Records Bureau’s latest report on ‘Accidental Deaths & Suicides in India’ places the number for 2010 at 15,964 even after Govt. informs  Indian parliament that in India during 2010, 657 farmers had taken their lives on this count, while in 2004 the toll was as high as .Agrarian at it’s peak and NCRB exposes that  brings the cumulative 16-year total from 1995 — when the NCRB started recording farm suicide data — to 2,56,913, the worst-ever recorded wave of suicides of this kind in human history.,
As Andhra Pradesh Govt. is also misleading when they report that  42 farmers’ suicide in 2011 in comparison to 1,181 in 2004 and 152 in 2010,in fact In Andhra Pradesh, 95 farmers committed suicides in just six districts in one month during Oct – Nov 2011, as per compilation of news reports by Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA). ASHA conducted fact-finding visits to 20 families and found that all of them were due to agricultural reasons. “It is highly objectionable that the Government classifies suicides as ‘genuine’ and ‘not genuine’! In 2010, while Crime Records Bureau shows 2525 suicides of farmers, the AP Government has classified only 158 as “genuine”! When it comes to implementing the relief package meant for families of suicides victims, the Government machinery is geared towards ignoring or not supporting the families with designated ex-gratia, under political compulsions , Kiran Vissa of Association for India’s Development  added from Hyderabad (Kiran Vissa, AID: 09701705743)
“Farm suicide is only figure that indicates serious agrarian crisis needs long term solution as it is apparent that the existing model of agriculture cannot continue. The current high-external-input model of farming has been one of the root causes for the increasing burden on farmers, given its unviable economics with spiraling costs, unmatched by adequate returns. This model of farming has also resulted in erosion and degradation of the natural resource base on which production has to rest for all time to come! The Government has to promote sustainable agriculture that will reduce costs of cultivation for farmers and reduce risks through diversity-based, agro-ecological approaches. A programmatic thrust along with appropriate and adequate support systems is required to spread sustainable agriculture like the CMSA programme in Andhra Pradesh is required immediately. In this context, the importance of grassroots farmers’ institutions, to make farming a collective enterprise in many ways, cannot be over-emphasized”, Kavitha Kuruganti, Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) informed from Bangalore .

Walmart Effect: for those who are batting for FDIs in retail sector

We are hearing Manmohan Singh and his gang, Saharad Pawar, Jaiprakash Narayan and others batting for FDIs in Retail oector and saying that FDIs in retail sector will increase employment opportunities and provide better prices to farmers.  In US the organised retail sector led by Walmart has successfully pushed down the prices for the farmers and killed all the small time shop keepers.  Read from various sources, Universities on the ‘Walmart Effect’.

Unfortunately in India no Academic institute is interested in this.  Fortunately the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Commerce has made a critical analysis on this.

Understanding Wal-Mart Effect

Wal-Mart and Local Enemy

The new Wal-Mart Effect: Role of private contracting in global governance

The Effect of Wal-Mart on local labour market

Impact Wal-Mart phenomenon on Rural Communities

Wal-Mart and Country wide poverty

Wal-Mart’s impact on America’s Economy, Environment and Communities

Wal-Mart’s Economic Foot print: a literature review


Locational impact of Wal-Mart entrance

Wal-Mart effect








Searching for our daily bread

If the word crisis is vastly overused, to speak of a global food crisis is, if anything, an understatement.

The first signs of trouble appeared in 2000, when global grain stocks declined for the first time in several decades, but it was not until the spring of 2007 that the full gravity of what was occurring became clear. That year, the prices of the principal food staples — rice, corn, soybeans and wheat — effectively doubled. This was an |unprecedented rise, and it reversed more than 50 years of declining prices. The results were immediate and devastating: the number of hungry or chronically malnourished people rose by at least 100 million, to nearly one billion people. Food riots and other forms of unrest broke out.

While global grain prices have declined substantially since 2008, they are poised to rise again. When they do, the costs in terms of both human suffering and political and social upheaval are likely to make the 2007 price crisis pale by comparison.

It is easy to mock the various conferences, emergency meetings and seemingly endless policy documents that have tried to mitigate the threat but so far have achieved little. In fairness, though, responding effectively will be extraordinarily difficult. Despite what some conspiracy-minded critics have alleged, the crisis has a number of drivers, each one of which would be challenging enough on its own, but which taken together seem to call for a hard-to-imagine radical restructuring. These drivers include the diversion of grains in North America and western Europe to biofuel production; higher energy costs, which translate into more expensive chemical fertilisers; and since 2000, financial speculation over staple crops, which causes price fluctuations.

As if this were not bad enough, these changes have been taking place during a period of very rapid population growth. And in some regions with dramatic demographic increases, like sub-Saharan Africa and parts of South Asia, climate change is threatening to lower crop yields at precisely the time that more staple foods urgently need to be produced.


Although everyone agrees there is a food emergency, there is little agreement on what should be done. The dominant approach, championed and to a considerable extent financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — now the world’s principal private funder of agricultural research — holds that the global food crisis is fundamentally the result of both inefficient and insufficient food production. Therefore the solution is what Gordon Conway, the former president of another major philanthropic supporter of this effort, has called “the doubly green revolution.” Conway has defined this as harnessing “the power of science and technology not just for the better-off, or even the majority, but for those millions of poor and hungry who deserve and have a right to enough to eat.”


Arrayed against this view are the agroecologists, grouped around organisations and coalitions like the right to food movement in India and their intellectual supporters, like Olivier de Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food. They argue that agroecology — the application of ecological principles to agriculture — offers the possibility of increasing crop yields without resorting to expensive, patented inputs beyond the means of poor smallholder farmers. They also argue that the global food crisis is less a technical problem than a social and political crisis, whose roots and solutions lie in creating a fairer and more accountable world system.


For now, the technological aproach remains in the ascendant. Whether it remains so much longer will depend to a considerable extent on whether its innovations live up to their advance billing, are financially sustainable and prove to be culturally acceptable to farmers.


Both sides would probably agree that neither technical innovation nor agroecology can work unless governments are fully committed to reducing the number of hungry and chronically malnourished people. When governments have been committed, progress has been very rapid, as the examples of China, Thailand, Vietnam, Mexico, and, most brilliantly, Brazil, have demonstrated conclusively over the last three decades. When they have not been, as is the case, disgracefully, in India — where the malnutrition rate for children under five stubbornly remains at 46 per cent, double the average in sub-Saharan Africa — conditions have deteriorated.


But if the global food crisis is real, it is not unsolvable. One of the greatest accomplishments of the 20th century was to make famine — for all of human history a scourge that seemed as inevitable as the other three horsemen of the apocalypse, war, plague, and death — a rarity. Today, famine is almost invariably the product of evil governments, North Korea being the obvious case, or of no government, as in Somalia. The hunger that maims and blights should be consigned to the past, just as the hunger that kills has been.


Organic rice cultivation transforming lives of Damoh farmers

The longer organic variety of rice versus HYV variety. Photo: Mahim Pratap Singh
The HinduThe longer organic variety of rice versus HYV variety. Photo: Mahim Pratap Singh

Till last year, Shiv Singh, a landless labourer from the Pinarayi village of Damoh district knew of only one survival strategy-migrating to Delhi to earn his living as a construction worker.

This year, with the Rs. 8,000 he had saved from his Delhi earnings, Shiv took a 3-acre piece of land on lease and grew rice on it. The harvest in September fetched him Rs.55,000 besides enough rice for his family to last for a year.

But, unlike most success stories, his is not an isolated case.

Several villages of Damoh, which was last in news for being the hub of farmer suicides earlier this year, are witnessing a small, quiet, yet successful green revolution-of the organic kind.

Farming has not been a successful proposition in this very backward district of the parched Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh since the late 1980s due to a rapidly receding water table and scarce rainfall.

Last December and this January, Damoh witnessed the first of the several farmer suicides across Madhya Pradesh when large tracts of pulses crop perished owing to frost bite.

But over the last year and a half, over 1200 farmers of 32 villages of the Tendukheda block of Damoh, have taken to farming rice organically. Most of them are small and marginal farmers; some, like Shiv Singh, are even landless labourers.

Helped by Gramin Vikas Samiti, a local pro-organic farming organization, and People’s Science Institute, a Dehradun based non-profit, these farmers together cultivated rice on a total of over 1500 acres.

The trend started with just four farmers of Beldhana village and has now spread to other villages like Ajitpur, Hardua, Harrai etc.

The farmers in these villages shunned the High Yielding Varieties and the “progressive”, high-input, fertilizer-pesticide dominated farming practices often advocated by the government and took to completely traditional methods along with a set of cultivation practices collectively called System of Rice Intensification (SRI), initially developed in the early 1980s by a French priest in Madagascar.

The results have been more than encouraging.

While the average rice yield in Bundelkhand is around 17-20 quintal/hectare, these villages recorded average yields of at least 75-80 quintal per hectare this season. While the lowest yield in these 32 villages was 44 quintals/hectare, the maximum yield stood at 115 quintals/hectare.

Even agriculture scientists, who usually advocate modern and scientific farming over traditional practices, agree.

“These are miraculous results, considering the low rice productivity found in most of Madhya Pradesh and the extremely low productivity found in Bundelkhand,” says Dr. Sanjay Vaishyampayan, Senior Scientist, Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Damoh, which comes under the Jawaharlal Nehru Agriculture University, Jabalpur.

“Moreover, these farmers used very less seed, 2.5 kg/acre compared to 40kg/acre required in non-traditional methods. They also saved on pesticide and fertilizer costs as they only used organic manure,” says Dr. Sanjay.

The farmers used traditional varieties of rice like Lochai, Ganjakali, Kesar etc which they found in the neighbourhood homes of Gond adivasis.

Along with that, they used organic manure prepared from household ingredients like cow dung and urine, lemon juice, banana pulp, milk and curd etc which were all mixed together in specific quantities and kept under a lid in an earthen pot (matka) for about 15 days.

“Earlier, most farmers of our village were hesitant so we used these techniques on a small part of our lands. Last year I cultivated half an acre. After seeing the good yield, I have brought two acres under this system,” says Moolchand of Ajitpur village, who owns four acres.

The plant thus grown is 6 feet long compared to the 3.5 feet long HYV variety and has over 300 grains compared to about 100 grains in the latter.

“This is entirely the result of the hard work of these farmers, we only suugested them to take to organic farming and use other SRI which involves planting less seeds, planting them in rows spaced 10 inches from each other and using organic manure,” says Govind Yadav of Gramin Vikas Samiti.

The new methods have also made lives simpler for women, who used to toil hard, standing for hours in ankle-deep water taking out the weed. That task (taking out the weed) is now done by the menfolk with the help of a locally made de-weeder, which costs about Rs.1000.

The farmers don’t want to form a cooperative yet, but they are seriously thinking about setting up a seed bank of traditional varieties, “which are so hard to find these days”.

The little success story of these farmers is like a ray of hope in Madhya Pradesh where rice productivity is far from satisfactory, especially since the high-productivity areas split to form Chhattisgarh.