Small loans add up to lethal debts

ERIKA KINETZ

DEBT AND DEATH: Family members with a photograph of Hari Prasad, who took his own life in August 2010 by consuming pesticide in their home in Kadiri in Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh. He had run up debts with a microfinance company. In the photograph taken last week are Sunita, the widow, 22, along with her daughter Shwetha, 5.

APDEBT AND DEATH: Family members with a photograph of Hari Prasad, who took his own life in August 2010 by consuming pesticide in their home in Kadiri in Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh. He had run up debts with a microfinance company. In the photograph taken last week are Sunita, the widow, 22, along with her daughter Shwetha, 5.

The microfinance industry pursued a path of rapid business growth in recent years; two investigations now link it to debtor suicides

First they were stripped of their utensils, furniture, mobile phones, television sets, ration cards and heirloom gold jewellery. Then, some of them drank pesticide. One woman threw herself into a pond. Another jumped into a well with her children.

Sometimes, the debt collectors watched nearby.

More than 200 poor, debt-ridden residents of Andhra Pradesh killed themselves in late 2010, according to media reports compiled by the State government. The State blamed microfinance companies which give small loans intended to lift up the very poor for fuelling a frenzy of over-indebtedness, and then pressuring borrowers so relentlessly that some took their own lives.

The companies, including market leader SKS Microfinance, denied it.

Investigations

An independent investigation commissioned by the company, however, linked SKS employees to at least seven of the deaths. A second investigation commissioned by an industry umbrella group that probed the role of many microfinance companies, did not draw conclusions but pointed to SKS’ involvement in two more cases that ended in suicide. Neither study has been made public.

Both reports said SKS employees had verbally harassed over-indebted borrowers, forced them to pawn valuable items, incited other borrowers to humiliate them and orchestrated sit-ins outside their homes to publicly shame them. In some cases, SKS staff physically harassed defaulters, according to the report commissioned by the company. Only in death would the debts be forgiven.

The videos and reports tell stark stories:

One woman drank pesticide and died a day after an SKS loan agent told her to prostitute her daughters to pay off her debt. She had been given Rs. 1.5 lakh in loans but only made Rs. 600 a week.

Another SKS debt collector told a delinquent borrower to drown herself in a pond if she wanted her loan waived. The next day, she did. She left behind four children.

One agent blocked a woman from bringing her young son, weak with diarrhoea, to the hospital, demanding payment first. Other borrowers, who could not get any new loans until she paid, told her that if she wanted to die, they would bring her pesticide. An SKS staff member was there when she drank the poison. She survived.

An 18-year-old girl, pressured until she handed over Rs. 150 meant for a school examination fee, also drank pesticide. She left a suicide note: “Work hard and earn money. Do not take loans.”

In all these cases, the report commissioned by SKS concluded that the company’s staff members were directly or indirectly responsible.

Caught in the despair of poverty, tens of thousands of impoverished Indians kill themselves every year, often because of insurmountable debt. The supportive structure of the microfinance companies was supposed to change that.

But Davuluri Venkateswarlu, director of Glocal Research in Hyderabad, which conducted the industry-wide investigation, said in an interview that he told SKS executives there was “clear involvement of SKS personnel” in some suicides.

SKS continues to deny all responsibility for the deaths, and says it never commissioned an independent inquiry. SKS spokesman J.S. Sai, who flew to Mumbai from the company’s Hyderabad headquarters to discuss the AP’s findings, said the company stands by its September 2011 affidavit before the Supreme Court. In that affidavit, chief executive M.R. Rao says SKS “is neither the cause of nor responsible for any suicides in the State of Andhra Pradesh.”

The deaths came after a period of hyper-growth leading up to the company’s hugely successful August 2010 initial public offering.

Originally developed as a non-profit effort to lift society’s most downtrodden, microfinance has increasingly become a for-profit enterprise that serves investors as well as the poor. As India’s market leader, SKS has pioneered a business model that many others hoped to emulate.

But the story of what went wrong at SKS has led current and former employees and even some major shareholders to question that strategy, and raises fundamental questions for the multibillion-dollar global microfinance industry.

Meanwhile, whistleblowers at SKS say they have been targeted for retaliation and that the company has failed to correct structural flaws that contributed to the suicides.

“At the end of it,” said Alok Prasad, chief executive of the Microfinance Institutions Network, the industry group that commissioned the Glocal report, “you come down to a handful of cases where some things went wrong. Is that indicative of the model being bad or very rapid expansion leading to a loss of control?”

Beginnings in Bangladesh

Microfinance was born in desperation. Amid the 1970s famine in Bangladesh, Muhammad Yunus began giving small loans to poor women with his own money. Despite the predictions of bankers, the women paid him back.

The core idea of Professor Yunus’ Grameen Bank was the borrower group. Five women from a village determine how large a loan each member gets and act as guarantors. If even one member is delinquent, no new loans are issued. Group members apply pressure and support that has kept repayment rates near 100 per cent.

Professor Yunus’ innovation won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.

In 1997, Professor Yunus’ acolyte, Vikram Akula, founded his own microcredit organisation, Swayam Krishi Sangham, which stands for “self-help society.” In 2005, SKS started operating as a for-profit company and Mr. Akula began chasing private investment to achieve the massive scale required to dent global poverty.

Public issue

In August 2010, SKS Microfinance, then India’s largest microlender, went public. Exuberant investors oversubscribed the Rs. 1,715- crore offering by nearly 14 times. The stock surged more than 10 per cent on its first day. In celebration, the company handed out 21,000 watches to employees.

Then media reports began to surface that over-indebted borrowers were killing themselves.

In October 2010, a mob of 150 people surrounded SKS’ Hyderabad headquarters, protesting the suicide of a borrower’s husband. They threatened to drag the corpse inside and demanded Rs. 9.8 lakh.

It was one of dozens of deaths the Government of Andhra Pradesh blamed on aggressive tactics by microfinance companies. The police jailed microfinance employees, including dozens from SKS. Among the charges was abetment to suicide, essentially driving people to kill themselves. Authorities investigated 76 cases in which employees from SKS and other microfinance companies were blamed for driving borrowers to take their own lives. The State passed a law designed to clamp down on abuses with new restrictions on loan disbursement and collection and onerous registration requirements on the companies. Microlending in India’s largest microcredit market was effectively shut down.

Charges denied

Microfinance officials fought the new law and denied the charges, accusing the State government of trying to gain traction with voters and punish companies for capturing valuable market share from state-run lending groups.

Established microlenders such as SKS said loan sharks operating under the guise of microfinance were behind the excesses. SKS and other companies asked a court to stop the arrest of their employees. The court issued a stay on new arrests. Today, no one is in jail.

In a November 2010 letter to the Union Finance Minister, Mr. Akula defended his company and included supportive articles from The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times.

At the same time, the industry group Microfinance Institutions Network hired Glocal to investigate 44 deaths among debtors of microfinance companies, including SKS.

Mr. Venkateswarlu, the Glocal director, presented the findings to executives at three lenders. In January 2011, he delivered startling news to Mr. Akula and Mr. Rao — SKS employees had clear involvement in the suicide of four borrowers, meaning that their actions appeared strongly linked to the subsequent deaths, according to their investigation.

The AP obtained a four-page section of the Glocal report that deals with the SKS case studies. It related the financial history of borrowers, the loans obtained, the nature of pressure or harassment for repayment, and the microfinance company involved. Mr. Venkateswarlu verified that it was indeed the material he presented to Mr. Akula and Mr. Rao.

“They said they’d look into the issue and take some appropriate action,” Mr. Venkateswarlu said.

SKS sent internal audit teams to the field. Their reports exonerated the company.

Inquiry initiated

Unable to reconcile the two sets of findings, SKS hired Guardian’s Human & Civil Rights Forum and Third Eye, a private investigative agency, to do a more thorough, independent inquiry, according to Ramesh Vautrey, head of administration at SKS, who oversaw the investigation, and Rajender Khanna, the president of Guardian’s.

A January 17, 2011, letter from SKS, signed and stamped by Mr. Vautrey, asked Mr. Khanna to “carry out a fact-finding enquiry on the causes of suicide and complicity of our field staffs without any prejudice,” according to a copy of the letter obtained by AP. The AP was shown invoice numbers for SKS payments to Third Eye and e-mails indicating the findings were sent to top management.

P.H. Ravikumar, who became interim chairman of the SKS board last November, said neither management nor the board had authorised an independent inquiry into borrower-deaths.

“Our enquiries from 2009 to 2011 have revealed that neither SKS nor its employees have been the cause for any of the suicides in the state of Andhra Pradesh,” the company said in a statement. The company also said SKS employees have been acquitted in two borrower suicide cases in Andhra Pradesh and that only one criminal case remains outstanding.

Mr. Khanna sent teams to speak with families of the dead, village leaders, neighbours and loan agents, videotaping the interviews. Their report said SKS employees bore direct or indirect responsibility for at least seven suicides, including two that overlapped with the Glocal findings.

The interview videos were shown to the AP by Uma Maheshwari, who said she was present during one set of recordings and visited several of the families personally. She left SKS in July.

In one video, the daughter of borrower Dhake Lakshmi Rajyam cries, gasping as she talks to an investigator in Tadepalligudem, Andhra Pradesh.

Rajyam was unable to pay off Rs. 1.18 lakh owed to eight different companies. Employees of microfinance companies, including SKS, urged other borrowers to seize the family’s chairs, utensils and wardrobe and pawn them to make loan payments, her family told investigators. Unable to bear the insults and pressure of the crowd of borrowers who sat outside her home for hours to shame her, Rajyam drank pesticide on September 16, 2010, and died, the family says.

“We’ve lost my mother,” her daughter says. “Nobody will support us.”

The investigator’s conclusions lay the blame on SKS employees, saying they failed to comply with company policies “and even basic moral rights.”

Mr. Vautrey said he sent the case studies to three top managers, including Mr. Rao. E-mails obtained by AP indicate that summary reports were e-mailed to the managers.

Mr. Rao did not respond to multiple requests from AP seeking comment.

Mr. Vautrey went to Mr. Akula’s office one night and told him what they were doing was bad karma. “I don’t want to be part of a team abetting suicides,” Mr. Vautrey said in an interview. “It is systemic failure. We have no right to kill anybody for our own business. Let’s close down our business if we can’t do it right.”

Profound shift

A profound shift in values and incentives at SKS began in 2008.

In October, Boston-based Sandstone Capital, now SKS’ largest investor, made a major investment. It joined U.S. private equity firm Sequoia Capital, which funded Google and Apple and is SKS’ largest shareholder, on the board of directors.

Mr. Akula, who had been chief executive in the company’s early days, stepped down in December 2008 but stayed on as chairman. The company brought in new top executives from the worlds of finance and insurance.

SKS also began transferring more loans off its books, selling highly rated pools of loans to banks, which then assumed most of the associated risk of borrower default. That freed SKS to push out more and bigger loans.

In December 2009, SKS launched a massive sales drive. The “Incentives Galore” programme ran through February 2010, just one month before the company filed its IPO prospectus.

Agents won prizes worth up to 10 times their average monthly salary for signing huge numbers of new borrowers. Mr. Vautrey said he coordinated the shipment of 8,800 television sets, refrigerators, gold coins, mixers, washing machines and DVDs as rewards for more than 3,000 districts nationwide.

One loan officer signed up 273 groups in a month. Under training protocols, the ideal number of groups formed per month is 12, the maximum is 36, according to field agents and reports written by Mr. Akula.

“The focus is only on targets,” said Ramulu Sirgapur, who spent a decade at SKS before he left in December. “Even if we’ve given feedback, there might be recovery or repayment issues. That’s OK. Just concentrate on growth.”

The result: Management had a great set of numbers to show investors as it shopped the IPO. In a month, SKS could add 400,000 borrowers and 100 branches, and train more than 1,000 new loan officers. SKS had 6.8 million borrowers and had disbursed Rs. 15,680 crore in loans. India was pimpled with SKS branches, which bloomed in nearly 100,000 villages. SKS said it was the fastest growing microfinance company in the world.

What was overlooked

But basic principles of lending were overlooked, according to interviews with current and former employees, as well as correspondence and internal PowerPoint presentations by Mr. Akula.

Six current and former SKS staffers with experience in the field told the AP they no longer had time to check a borrower’s assets or follow up and make sure a loan was put to productive use. They said they were pressured to push more debt onto people than they could handle, and that the number of days devoted to borrower training was cut in half.

“You have a [borrower group], and a loan officer goes out and trains them, educates them, then they give the loan. That’s the SKS I’d seen in 1999. That was the whole model on which microfinance is supposed to work. In the quest for growth, a lot of these things got neglected,” said Ankur Sarin, director of the SKS trusts, which are the fourth largest shareholder in the company and tasked with looking out for borrower interests.

As the relationships between heavily indebted borrowers and loan agents broke down, it became harder to collect. Frustrated agents began working together and going door to door to collect, rather than taking payments only in public, a company rule that had been designed to limit coercion. They began using other borrowers to pressure defaulters into repaying.

“The growth was very rapid. That growth led to some suboptimal outcomes,” said Ashish Lakhanpal, managing director of Kismet Capital, one of SKS’ largest shareholders, who was on the SKS board until October 2010. “Were there lapses? Absolutely.”

While the board was concerned about fast credit growth, the company never believed it was harming borrowers, Mr. Lakhanpal said. “Mistakes were made, but I find it difficult to believe there was anything people did at a managerial level to encourage field officers to do that,” he said.

Plan that never made it

In the spring of 2011, Mr. Akula began circulating a plan to spend Rs. 49 crore to train financial counsellors, who would make sure clients were not getting into too much debt and used their loans productively, according to Mr. Sarin, Mr. Vautrey and others with firsthand knowledge of the proposal.

But the plan was never adopted. Publicly, Mr. Akula continued to deny that SKS bore any responsibility for suicides. “Whatever happened was due to external factors and was not reflective of any fundamental flaw in our model,” he toldBusiness Today.

Privately, Mr. Akula prepared a 55-page presentation for the board that detailed the seven suicides that SKS’ outside investigation had blamed on the company. The presentation showed how the pre-IPO push for growth led to a systemic breakdown, and again urged core reforms to restore training and lending discipline.

Board members received copies of Mr. Akula’s presentation at a July 26, 2011, meeting, said a former employee who helped prepare the material.

The minutes of the meeting, however, make no mention of the report.

“As per my notes, this was not part of the board proceedings,” company secretary Sudershan Pallap wrote in a September 26 e-mail to Mr. Akula, who had complained of the omission.

Mr. Ravikumar, who would become interim chairman when Mr. Akula resigned, said the board was never informed that SKS employees were implicated in any suicides, and denied Mr. Akula presented any such findings to the board. “There was no presentation from Vikram Akula at that board meeting. This will be reflected in the minutes, as signed by Vikram Akula,” he said.

Mr. Ravikumar said the board reviewed reports from the Microfinance Institutions Network, but none of them implicated SKS employees.

Complaints

Mr. Akula continued to complain to the board that his presentation had been ignored. He summarised his concerns about the company’s direction in e-mails, obtained by the AP, to seven board members, including Sequoia’s Sumir Chadha, Sandstone’s Paresh Patel and three independent directors — Mr. Ravikumar, Harvard’s Tarun Khanna, and Pramod Bhasin, the former chief executive of Genpact.

Mr. Chadha, Mr. Patel and Mr. Khanna did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Mr. Ravikumar declined to comment on what he said was personal correspondence.

Mr. Bhasin said reports claiming SKS bore responsibility for borrower suicides were “unsubstantiated.” “Any issues raised to the Board at various times were fully investigated by external parties and found to be unsubstantiated or without evidence or actions were taken on them where appropriate,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Rancour within the company was intensifying. Board members felt Mr. Akula was suffering from a bad case of “founder’s syndrome,” that he could not stand to share power at a company that had become too big for him to run.

Finally, on November 23, 2011, Mr. Akula resigned.

Mr. Vautrey said he was targeted, and SKS began termination proceedings against him on February 6.

Three members of his staff have been fired and have filed wrongful termination complaints.

On February 6, SKS also sold Rs. 243 crore in securitised loans. The stock price surged 10 per cent. Top executives have been on the road, hoping to raise Rs. 500 crore from international investors.

Mr. Sai, the company spokesman, said SKS has hired an ombudsman, is spending Rs. 14.7 crore to improve its customer grievance programme and has revamped training to ensure that employees comply with current regulations and do not lend to over-indebted borrowers. He said the company would like to reorganise incentives to maintain rapid growth while ensuring loan quality. Those changes have yet to be implemented, he said. — AP

Poor allocation to agriculture sector flayed

HYDERABAD, FEB. 23:

Rythu Swarajya Vedika has flayed the Andhra Pradesh Government for allocating meagre allocations for agriculture and allied sectors in the 2012-13 Budget .

“In a huge Budget of Rs 1.40 lakh crore, agriculture has got just Rs 2,946 crore. Even if you add allocations to allied sectors, the figure would touch only the 5,890-crore mark. A good part of it goes as salaries. Farmers will get nothing,” Mr Kiran Kumar Vissa of AID India and Dr. D. Narasimha Reddy (Chetana Society), said.

Addressing a press conference here on Thursday, they criticised the Government for not giving enough focus to a sector that takes care of the livelihood of 60 per cent of the population. “Farmers and non-governmental organisations have been asking for at least 20 per cent allocation. Farm sector is facing a severe crisis with poor remunerative prices and sharp increase in cost of production. The sector needs urgent attention,” they said.

“Support prices announced by the Centre for various crops are not sufficient enough to meet the costs. They have been asking for increase in MSP. But what should they do if the Union Government fails to listen to their appeals? It is the responsibility of States to see to it that farmers get remunerative prices,” they said.

“Farmers can reduce cost of production if they follow sustainable practices. The Government should provide financial resources to farmers to follow such practices ,” Mr K. Ravi of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, said.

kurmanath@thehindu.co.in

Expert calls for paradigm shift in agriculture research

‘Undue emphasis being laid on genetically modified crops’

Sage advice:Center for Sustainable Agriculture Executive Director G.V. Ramanjaneyulu addressing a seminar at Regional Agricultural Research Station in Guntur on Friday.—Photo: T. Vijaya Kumar

Sage advice:Center for Sustainable Agriculture Executive Director G.V. Ramanjaneyulu addressing a seminar at Regional Agricultural Research Station in Guntur on Friday.—Photo: T. Vijaya Kumar

The Green Revolution in India was possible due to import of advanced technologies from developed countries, mainly the U.S., and a dominant role played by the government, which extended remarkable assistance to farmers in producing crops and selling them at remunerative price. In the post-Green Revolution scenario, India continued to adopt technologies that were best suited for large land holdings such as those in the U.S., where agriculture was heavily subsidised and the regulatory agencies played their role to perfection.

“The situation in India is altogether different. Research is being done from the government’s own perspective rather than on the basis of ground realities, which is reflected in the sordid plight of farmers,” said G.V. Ramanjaneyulu, Executive Director of Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA), Hyderabad.

Pest management

Addressing a seminar on ‘Agricultural research in post-Green Revolution era – Need for a paradigm shift’ organised by the Jana Vignana Vedika at the Regional Agricultural Research Station (RARS) at Lam here on Friday, Mr. Ramanjaneyulu said at a time when the food basket needed to be diversified for feeding the billion plus population and for sustaining the agriculture sector, paddy, cotton, maize, and groundnut constituted 80 per cent of the crops cultivated in India.

Instead of focusing on ‘pest management’, scientists were harping on ‘pesticide research’, whereas the emphasis ought to have been on finding new ways of reducing the usage of pesticides whose harmful consequences were very well known.

Mr. Ramanjaneyulu expressed regret that enough thought did not go into the reasons for farmer suicides which, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, numbered a staggering 2,56,913 in a span of 15 years (1995-2010).

Undue emphasis was laid on genetically modified crops, which might be high-yielding but not disease-resistant in the long run. Fertilizer subsidy bill topped Rs. 1,00,000 crore, as farmers preferred using these chemicals oblivious to the rising demand for organic foods.

A lot of research was required to be done keeping such crucial things in mind as otherwise agriculture was not going to be sustainable in the medium to long terms, Mr. Ramanjaneyulu observed.

RARS Associate Director K. Sankar Reddy and N. Venugopala Rao of Jana Vignana Vedika spoke.

 


  • India continues to adopt technologies best suited for conditions prevailing in the U.S, he says
  • Executive Director of CSA says enough thought has not gone into reasons behind farmer suicides

వ్యవసాయ బడ్జెట్ ఎప్పుడు? – సుస్థిర వ్యవసాయ కేంద్రం

ఆంధ్రప్రదేశ్ శాసనసభలో నేడు 2012-13 ఆర్థిక సంవత్సర బడ్జెట్‌ను ప్రవేశపెట్టనున్నారు. ఈ సందర్భంగా రాష్ట్ర వ్యవసాయరంగంలో నెలకొనివున్న విషాద, విపత్కర పరిస్థితులను గుర్తు చేయక తప్పదు. క్రైం బ్యూరో రికార్డుల ప్రకారం 2010లో రాష్ట్ర వ్యాప్తంగా 2,525 మంది రైతులు ఆత్మహత్య చేసుకున్నారు. గత ఏడాది కేవలం అక్టోబర్-నవంబర్ నెలల్లో 156 మంది రైతులు ఆత్మహత్య చేసుకున్నట్టు వార్తలు తెలియజేస్తున్నాయి. వ్యవసాయరంగంలో నెలకొన్న సంక్షోభానికి రైతుల ఆత్మహత్యలు ఒక చిన్న ప్రతీక మాత్రమే. పెట్టుబడులు పెరిగిపోయి, ధరలు గిట్టుబాటు కాని పరిస్థితిలో దాదాపు 85వేల ఎకరాలలో రైతులు ‘పంట విరామం’ ప్రకటించారు.

విస్తృత ప్రచారంలోకి రాకుండా రైతులు క్రాప్ హాలిడే ప్రకటించిన భూముల విస్తీర్ణం మరింత ఎక్కువ ఉంటుంది. రైతులను కృంగదీస్తోన్న వివిధ సమస్యలపై రైతు స్వరాజ్య వేదిక, సుస్థిర వ్యవసాయ కేంద్రం, ఆక్స్‌ఫామ్ ఇండియాలు సంయుక్తంగా ఈ నెల 6న హైదరాబాద్‌లోని ‘సెస్’లో (సెంటర్ ఫర్ ఎకనామిక్స్ అండ్ సోషల్ స్టడీస్)లో ఒక రౌండ్ టేబుల్ సమావేశాన్ని నిర్వహించాయి.

వడ్డే శోభనాద్రీశ్వరరావు (మాజీ వ్యవసాయ శాఖ మంత్రి), సారంపల్లి మల్లారెడ్డి (ఆలిండియా కిసాన్ సభ), వెంకటేశ్వర్లు (ప్లానింగ్ విభాగం, వ్యవసాయ శాఖ), కె.ఆర్.చౌదరి (రిటైర్డ్ ప్రొఫెసర్), ప్రొ. అల్తాస్ జానయ్య (వ్యవసాయ విశ్వవిద్యాలయం), ప్రొ.రమణమూర్తి (కేంద్రీయ విశ్వవిద్యాలయం), డాక్టర్ జి.వి.రామాంజనేయులు (ఎగ్జిక్యూటివ్ డైరెక్టర్, సుస్థిర వ్యవసాయకేంద్రం) విస్సా కిరణ్ కుమార్ (కో ఆర్డినేటర్, రైతు స్వరాజ్యవేదిక), సుధాకర్ (ఆక్స్‌ఫామ్ ఇండియా)లతో సహా వివిధ రాజకీయ పక్షాల, రైతు సంఘాల, స్వచ్ఛంద సంస్థల ప్రతినిధులు, వ్యవసాయరంగ నిపుణులు, వ్యవసాయ, పశుసంవర్థక శాఖ అధికారులు పాల్గొన్నారు.

గత రాష్ట్ర బడ్జెట్‌లలో వ్యవసాయరంగానికి, అనుబంధరంగాలకు చేసిన కేటాయింపులు, అవి ఖర్చు అయిన తీరును చర్చించారు. రాష్ట్రంలోని చిన్న, సన్నకారు, మధ్యతరగతి రైతుల ఆదాయాలు పెరిగేలా, వారి కుటుంబ జీవన స్థితిగతులు మెరుగుపడేలా విధానాలు రూపొందాలని, అందుకనుగుణంగా బడ్జెట్‌లో వ్యవసాయ, అనుబంధ రంగాలకు కేటాయింపులు పెరగాలని, లక్ష్యసాధన దిశలో ఈ కేటాయింపులన్నీ సమర్థంగా వినియోగించబడాలని సమావేశంలో పాల్గొన్న ప్రతి ఒక్కరూ అభిప్రాయపడ్డారు. ఆయా అంశాలపై వారి అభిప్రాయాలు, ప్రతిపాదనలను క్లుప్తంగా చూద్దాం.

రాష్ట్రంలోను, దేశంలోనూ వ్యవసాయదారులందరినీ పీడిస్తున్న సమస్య ఉత్పత్తి ఖర్చులు పెరిగిపోవడమూ, వాటికీ పంటకు లభించే మద్దతు ధరలకూ పొంతన లేకపోవడమూ. వ్యవసాయం లాభదాయకంగా ఉండాలంటే స్వామినాథన్ కమిషన్ సిఫార్సుల మేరకు ఉత్పత్తి ఖర్చుపై 50 శాతం లాభంతో కనీస మద్దతు ధరలు ప్రకటించాలని మనమందరమూ కేంద్ర ప్రభుత్వాన్ని ఇంతకాలం డిమాండ్ చేస్తూ వచ్చాం. కానీ అది జరగలేదు. అయితే దీనిలో రాష్ట్ర ప్రభుత్వం కూడా తన వంతు బాధ్యత తీసుకోవాలి.

వరి మద్దతు ధర క్వింటాలుకు రూ.2770 ఉండాలని రాష్ట్ర వ్యవసాయ శాఖ కేంద్ర ధరలు, వ్యయాల కమిషన్‌కు సిఫార్సు చేస్తే కేంద్రం క్వింటాలుకు రూ.1080 మాత్రమే నిర్ణయించింది. రైతులకు జరుగుతున్న ఈ నష్టాన్ని భర్తీ చేయడానికి కొంతవరకైనా రాష్ట్ర ప్రభుత్వం బాధ్యత తీసుకున్నప్పుడే రైతులకు కొంత వరకు న్యాయం జరుగుతుంది.

ప్రభుత్వం అందించే సహకారం ఎక్కువగా పర్యావరణ పరంగా విధ్వంసం సృష్టిస్తున్న రసాయనిక ఎరువులు, పురుగు మందులు, హైబ్రిడ్/ జన్యు మార్పిడి పంటల విత్తనాలు, సంకర జాతి పశువుల వైపే వుంటోంది. వీటి వలన రైతులకు ఖర్చులు పెరగటంతో పాటు మారుతున్న శీతోష్ణ స్థితితో నష్టాలు కూడా పెరుగుతున్నాయి. కనుక భూసారం జాతీయ ఆస్తిగా గుర్తించి, దానిని పెంచటం కోసం ప్రభు త్వం సరైన ప్రోత్సాహకాలు అందించాలి. వర్షాధార ప్రాంతాల్లో వ్యవసాయాన్ని అభివృద్ధి చేయడానికి ఈ ప్రాంతానికి అనుకూలమైన పంటలు, పంటలలో భిన్నత్వం, ప్రతి రైతుకి కనీసం ఒకటి లేదా రెండు ఎకరాలకు సాగునీరు లభించే ఏర్పాటు చేయాలి.

రైతుల అసంఘటితంగా ఉండి, ఎవరి పద్ధతులలో వారు సేద్యం చేయడం వలన తీవ్ర నష్టాలకు గురవుతున్నారు. పంటల ఉత్పత్తి ఖర్చులు కూడా పెరుగుతున్నాయి. సంస్థాగత సహాయం కూడా వారికి సరిగా అందడం లేదు. తమ ఉత్పత్తులను కూడా గిట్టుబాటు ధరలకు అమ్ముకోలేక దోపిడీకి గురవుతున్నారు. సహజ వనరులు ఎవరికీ అందుబాటులో లేక పంటనష్టాలను పొందుతున్నారు.

ఎవరికి వారు బోరు బావులు తవ్వుకుంటూ పోవడం వలన ఆర్థికంగా అప్పుల పాలవుతున్నారు. ఇటువంటి కారణాలను చూపి కొంత మంది చిన్న రైతులు, చిన్న కమతాల వ్యవసాయం గిట్టుబాటు కాదని ప్రచారం చేస్తున్నారు. సాగు భూములను కాంట్రాక్ట్, కార్పొరేట్ వ్యవసాయానికి అప్పగించి, చిన్న, సన్నకారు రైతులు వేరే ఉపాధిని చూసుకోవాలని బోధిస్తున్నారు. ఈ ప్రతిపాదన ఆత్మహత్యా సదృశ్యమైనది.

ప్రస్తుతం వ్యవసాయ పరిశోధన, విస్తరణ వ్యవస్థను పటిష్ఠం చేయాలి. ఇందుకు ప్రతి 1000 హెక్టార్లకు కనీసం ఒక ఎఇఓ స్థాయి విస్తరణ అధికారిని నియమించాలి. అంటే రాష్ట్రం మొత్తం మీద పదివేల మంది ఎఇఓలు ఉండాలి. వ్యవసాయ పరిశోధనా కేంద్రాలలో నిధుల లేమి వల్ల పరిశోధనలు కుంటుపడుతున్నాయి. పరిశోధనలకు నిధులను భారీగా పెంచాలి. పరిశోధన నిధులలో కనీసం 50 శాతం సేంద్రియ సుస్థిర వ్యవసాయ పద్ధతులపై ఖర్చుపెట్టాలి. ప్రతి ఏటా రైతు కుటుంబాల ఆర్థికస్థితిపై, జీవనగతిపై ప్రత్యేక నివేదికను ప్రభుత్వం రూపొందించి విడుదల చేయాలి.

వ్యవసాయంలో ముఖ్య వనరైన విత్తనాలపై ప్రభుత్వ నియంత్రణ కరువవటంతో రైతులు విపరీతంగా నష్టపోతున్నారు. ఆంధ్రప్రదేశ్ విత్తనాభివృద్ధి సంస్థ పూర్తిగా నిర్వీర్యమయింది. అలాగే వ్యవసాయ విశ్వవిద్యాలయం అభివృద్ధి చేసిన పంటరకాలు, హైబ్రిడ్లు రైతులకు అందటం లేదు. పత్తి, మొక్కజొన్న లాంటి పంటలలో ఈ సమస్య మరింత తీవ్రంగా వుంది. అలాగే విత్తన నాణ్యత విషయంలోనూ, ధరల విషయంలోనూ నియంత్రణ లేకపోవడం వలన కంపెనీలు ఇష్టం వచ్చినట్లు ధరలు పెంచుకుంటున్నాయి. నాణ్యతలేని విత్తనాలతో రైతులు మోసపోతున్నారు.

వ్యవసాయం చేస్తున్న సాగుదారులందరికీ సంస్థాగత రుణ సౌకర్యం అందడం లేదు. రాష్ట్రంలో వ్యవసాయ రుణ అవసరాలలో కేవలం 27 శాతం మాత్రమే సంస్థాగత రుణాలు తీరుతున్నాయి. కనుక బ్యాంకులు పంట రుణాలు పూర్తిగా వాస్తవ సాగుదారుకే ఇవ్వాలి. అది కూడా పంటల సీజన్ ప్రారంభం కాకముందే రుణాలు అందాలి. వివిధ పంటలకు వాస్తవ ఉత్పత్తి ఖర్చుల ఆధారంగా బ్యాంకులు స్కేల్ ఆఫ్ ఫైనాన్స్ నిర్ణయించి రుణాలను ఇవ్వాలి.

ఈ విషయంలో ప్రాంతాల పరంగా ఉన్న వ్యత్యాసాలను కూడా పరిగణనలోకి తీసుకోవాలి. కౌలు రైతులకు రుణాలిచ్చేందుకు బ్యాంకులు నిరాకరిస్తున్నాయి. వసూలుకు హామీ అడుగుతున్నాయి. ఈ విషయంలో ప్రభుత్వం హామీ ఇవ్వకుండా బ్యాంకులు రుణాలు మంజూరు చేయవు. ప్రభుత్వం కౌలు రైతుల రుణాలకు హామీగా కౌంటర్ గ్యారంటీ ఇవ్వటానికి బడ్జెట్‌లో కేటాయింపులు చేయాలి.

అన్ని జిల్లాల్లో, అన్ని పంటలకు, అందరు రైతులకు సర్వే నెంబరు ప్రాతిపదికగా బీమా పథకం అమలు కావాలి. ఈ మేరకు రాష్ట్ర స్థాయిలో ప్రభుత్వ బీమా పథకాన్ని అమలు పరచాలి. బీమా నాలుగు దశలలో అమలుచేయడానికి తగిన ప్రణాళికలు రూపొందించాలి (విత్తిన 30 రోజులలోపు, పంట సస్యరక్షణ దశలో, పంట చివరి దశలో, పంటకోతల అనంతరం).

ఆయా దశలకు గాను కనీస ప్రీమియంను నిర్ణయించాలి. స్థానికంగా ఉండే మహిళా స్వయం సహాయక బృందాలను లేదా స్థానికంగా ఉండే సహకార సంఘాలను ఉపయోగించుకుని రైతుల (వాస్తవ సాగుదారుల) పేర్లను, సాగుచేసిన పంటలను, పంటల విస్తీర్ణాన్ని నమోదుచేయాలి. ప్రీమియం మొత్తాన్ని ప్రభుత్వమే భరించాలి. మధ్యతరగతి, పెద్ద రైతులు సాగుచేసిన పంటలకు గాను ప్రీమియం మొత్తంలో సగ భాగాన్ని మాత్రమే రైతుల నుంచి వసూలు చేయాలి. మిగిలిన సగభాగాన్ని ప్రభుత్వాలు భరించాలి. వాణిజ్య, ఉద్యాన పంటలకు కూడా ప్రస్తుతమున్న ప్రీమియం రేట్లను తగ్గించాలి.

ప్రకృతి వైపరీత్యాల వల్ల రైతులకు జరుగు పంట నష్టాన్ని అంచనా వేయడంలో విపరీతమైన ఆలస్యం జరుగుతున్నది. రాష్ట్ర వ్యవసాయ శాఖ అధికారులు నష్టం అంచనాలను రూపొందించడానికి నెలలు గడుస్తున్నాయి. రూపొందించిన నివేదికను కేంద్రానికి పంపితే, అక్కడి నుంచి కేంద్ర బృందం వచ్చి పరిశీలించి నివేదికను రూపొందించేందుకు మరికొన్ని నెలలు గడుస్తున్నది.

ఈ లోపు నష్టపోయిన రైతులకు ఏ పరిహారమూ అందడం లేదు. కేవలం కేంద్ర బృందం అందజేసే సహాయం కోసం ఎదురు చూడడం తప్ప, రాష్ట్ర ప్రభుత్వం ఒక్క రూపాయి కూడా ఇందుకోసం ఖర్చు చేయడం లేదు. ఈ వైఖరి రైతులను మరింత కుంగదీస్తున్నది. ప్రకృతి వైపరీత్యాల వల్ల నష్టం సంభవించినప్పుడు, వెంటనే రైతులను ఆదుకునేందుకు అవసరమైన నిధిని రాష్ట్ర బడ్జెట్‌లో కేటాయించాలి.

మన రైతుల్లో అత్యంత దుర్భరస్థితిలో ఉన్న వర్గం కౌలు రైతులదే. ఆత్మహత్యలకు పాల్పడుతున్న వారిలో కూడా అత్యధికులు వారే. భూసంస్కరణల చట్టాన్ని సమగ్రంగా అమలుచేసి మిగులుభూమిని భూమిలేని వ్యవసాయ కూలీలకు, కౌలు రైతులకు అందుబాటులోకి తేవాలి. రాష్ట్ర వ్యాపితంగా ఉన్న కౌలు రైతులను సాగుదారులుగా గుర్తించి పాస్ బుక్‌లను ఇవ్వాలి. కౌలురైతుల చట్టంలో ఉన్న కొన్ని లొసుగులను తొలగించి కౌలురేట్లపై పూర్తిస్థాయి నియంత్రణ విధించాలి. కౌలు రైతులకు రుణాలతో నిమిత్తం లేకుండా పంటల బీమా లభించాలి. అదే విధంగా పంటల నష్టపరిహారం కౌలు రైతులకు అందేలా వ్యవసాయ శాఖ అధికారులు ప్రత్యేక శ్రద్ధ తీసుకోవాలి. ఆత్మహత్య చేసుకున్న రైతు కుటుంబాలకు సహాయం చేయాలి.

జీవో నెం 421లో రైతు ఆత్మహత్యలను సత్వరమే గుర్తించి నెల రోజులలోగా నిర్ధారణ చేసే నిబంధన తేవాలి. ఈ విషయంలో రెవెన్యూ శాఖ, వ్యవసాయ శాఖ సమన్వయంతో బాధిత కుటుంబానికి తక్షణ సహాయం అందించాలి. జీవో 421/2004ను అమలు చేసే నిబంధనలను సవరించి (ప్రస్తుత నిబంధన ప్రకారం రైతు కుటుంబం 13 డాక్యుమెంట్లు సమర్పించాలి) గ్రామ సభ ద్వారా ఆత్మహత్యకు కారణం, అప్పులు తదితర విషయాలపై సత్వరంగా నిర్ధారణ జరిపే ప్రక్రియను ఏర్పాటుచేయాలి. రూ.100 కోట్లతో వ్యవసాయదారుల సంక్షేమ నిధిని ఏర్పాటుచేయాలి.

రౌండ్ టేబుల్ సమావేశం ఆమోదించిన ఈ ప్రతిపాదనలపై ప్రభుత్వం వెంటనే చర్యలు చేపట్టాలి. వ్యవసాయానికి, దాని అనుబంధరంగాలకు ప్రత్యేక ఆర్థిక సర్వే, బడ్జెట్ ప్రవేశపెట్టాలి (ఇప్పటికే కర్ణాటక, మధ్యప్రదేశ్ ప్రభుత్వాలు ప్రత్యేక వ్యవసాయ బడ్జెట్‌లు ప్రవేశపెట్టాయి); వ్యవసాయ, అనుబంధ రంగాలకు (సాగునీటి రంగం కాకుండా) బడ్జెట్‌లో కనీసం 20 శాతం కేటాయించాలి; రా ష్ట్ర స్థాయిలో ధరల, వ్యయాల కమిషన్ ఏర్పాటు చేయాలి. వ్యవసా య, అనుబంధరంగాల మంత్రిత్వ శాఖలు, డిపార్ట్‌మెంట్లతో ప్రత్యేక క్యాబినెట్ ఏర్పాటు చేయాలి. ఈ ప్రతిపాదనలపై అందరూ చర్చించాలి. వాటిని మరింత సమగ్రపరచి, రైతు, రైతుకూలీ సమాజానికి మేలు చేసే విధంగా రూపొందించాలి. వాటిని అమలుచేసేలా ప్రభుత్వంపై ఉమ్మడిగా ఒత్తిడి తెద్దాం.

– సుస్థిర వ్యవసాయ కేంద్రం
హైదరాబాద్
(ఫిబ్రవరి 6, 2012 నాడు జరిగిన రౌండ్‌టేబుల్ సమావేశం ప్రతిపాదనల ఆధారంగా)

 

Field versus Farm in Warangal: Bt Cotton, Higher Yields, and Larger Questions

GLENN DAVIS STONE*
Washington University, St. Louis, MO, USA

http://artsci.wustl.edu/~anthro/research/stone/WD2456.pdf

A longitudinal anthropological study of cotton farming in Warangal District of Andhra Pradesh, India, compares a group of villages before and after adoption of Bt cotton. It distinguishes “field-level” and “farm-level” impacts. During this five-year period yields rose by 18% overall, with greater increases among poor farmers with the least access to information. Insecticide sprayings dropped by 55%, although predation by non-target pests was rising. However shifting from the field to the historically-situated context of the farm recasts insect attacks as a symptom of larger problems in agricultural decision-making. Bt cotton’s opponents have failed to recognize real benefits at the field level, while its backers have failed to recognize systemic problems that Bt cotton may exacerbate.

Farmers, NGOs demand Rs 16,800 cr allocation for agriculture in AP Budget

HYDERABAD, FEB. 6:

Felt neglected and under-served, farmers, non-governments organisations and agricultural economists have called for at least 20 per cent of the Andhra Pradesh Budget on issues related to agriculture in the ensuing Budget for 2012-13. They called for allocations of Rs 16,800 crore exclusively for this ailing sector. This includes Rs 2,000 crore for a fund to help out farmers in times of natural disasters.

A round table meet organised here on Monday by Rythu Swarajya Vedika (RSV) and Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA) demanded the Government allocate Rs 1,000 crore each for price stabilisation and for setting up a fund to provide guarantees to enable tenant farmers to get bank loans.

“The agriculture sector is in severe crisis. The Government is allocating just 2.6 per cent of the Budget to this sector, despite the fact that it is providing livelihood to 69 per cent of people. Whatever is allocated is going to salaries of the staff and subsidies being given to companies,” Mr Vissa Kiran Kumar of RSV, said.

The day-long meeting was attended by farmers and representatives of farmers’ organisations and NGOs, from different parts of the State. Representatives of Telugu Desam and Congress parties too have taken part in the meeting. Recommendations of the meeting would be sent to the Government as it prepares the Budget for 2012-13.

Farmers have alleged that tenant farmers were not getting bank loans, forcing them to depend on private lenders and landlords themselves.

Mr Kodanda Reddy, Chairman of Kisan Cell of Congress Party, wanted the Government to set up a State-level Committee to monitor and oversee commodity prices as they did at the Central level. He also called for a change in procurement policy.

The roundtable demanded the Government to set up a Rs 100-crore welfare fund to pay compensation to the kin of farmers who committed suicide and died of electric shocks.

kurmanath@thehindu.co.in

Estimation of Efficiency, Sustainability and Constraints in SRI (System of Rice Intensification) vis-a-vis Traditional Methods of Paddy Cultivation in North Coastal Zone of Andhra Pradesh

Rao I.V.Y. Rama,
Cost of Cultivation Scheme, Regional Agricultural Research Station, Anakapalle, Visakhapatnam-531 001, Andhra Pradesh
Published on 14 November, 2011
Abstract
The study has assessed the economics and sustainability of SRI (system of rice intensification) and traditional methods of paddy cultivation in North Coastal Zone of Andhra Pradesh for the period 2008–09, based on the data of costs and returns of crop. Apart from budgeting techniques, benefit-cost ratio (BCR), yield gap analysis, sustainability index and response priority index have been employed in the study. It has shown that BCR is higher for SRI (1.76) than traditional (1.25) methods. Further, there is a 31 per cent yield gap between SRI and traditional methods, in which cultural practices (20.15%) have shown a stronger effect than input use (10.85%). The most important constraint in SRI cultivation has been identified as ‘nursery management’. The SRI method being more skill oriented, the study has observed that yields can be made sustainable if constraints are addressed on war-footing basis.