Four cotton growing states records 68% of the Farmers Suicides: NCRB 2012 data shows

National Crime Records Bureau Report-2012 shows increasing agrarian crisis in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra

The latest report of National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows that the total farmers suicides recorded during the year 2012 were 2,84,694 in the last eighteen years. NCRB started documenting the ‘Farmers Suicides’ as a separate category under self employed from 1995 onwards.

Four states Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh which are predominantly growing cotton in rainfed conditions records 68% of the farmers’ suicides. The two major states Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh have shown increase of 13% and 17% respectively compared over last year and together account for 46% of the total farmers’ suicides.

Weaving a soft cottony story
Published: February 24, 2013 16:12 IST | Updated: February 24, 2013 16:12 IST


Back to the basics: Vijayalakshmi and Mani believe going back to organic is the only way. Photo: BHagya Prakash K.

Mani and Vijayalakshmi tell us the fascinating story of how farmers in Karnataka and weavers in Tamil Nadu together bring out an ethical and sustainable range of weaves that includes all.

If you began this story with ‘Once upon a time…’ it would sound fairly long ago and suitably fairytale-like. But the story of Mani Chinnaswamy and Vijayalakshmi Nachiar is not so distant, though at the end, everybody lived happily. It’s a story that travels between Pollachi in Tamil Nadu and H.D. Kote in Karnataka. It’s a story that travels between farmers here and weavers there. It’s a story that travels from the farm to boutiques.

At a time when the country is opening up to MNC clothing companies , Mani and Vijayalakshmi decided to go back to the fabric synonymous with India — cotton. Mani, a third-generation inheritor of the family’s cotton mill Appachi Cotton, in Pollachi, Tamil Nadu, decided in 2006 that they should be an “ethical” business. “So we quit our conventional business,” say Mani, an MBA graduate from the U.S.A. The couple were recently in Bangalore for an exhibition of their products.

It was a decision driven by a whole chain of thought — cotton farming in India had gone beyond being chemically intensive to genetically modified (GM). A traditionally organic farming culture, with overuse of fertilizers, had failing soil, subsequent crop loss, farmers forcibly moving to GM crop because of low yields, farmers being in debt, leading to suicides… “Over 10 years we lost almost all our native seeds. The solution to reviving the soil, we thought, was going back to organic…it’s the only way. And it’s no rocket science. Most of our farmers have been organic by default. We are only making it a planned event.” And so started their Eco-Logic Project.

They partnered with the Savayava Krishikara Sangha in Karnataka, buying up native seeds that were in cold storage for three years from the Karnataka State Seeds Corporation, Hebbal. But why Karnataka? “Every cotton crop requires a climactic specific condition,” says Vijayalakshmi. “For example, varieties like the Dharwad Cotton Hybrid revived looms from Bengal to Trivandrum. Moreover the weather in Karnataka is best suited for cotton crops. Native seeds are hardy, and the shine and lustre of the cotton is intrinsically built into our picking and weaving traditions. Our interest lies in protecting our own identity,” says Mani. Mani had earlier experimented with the idea of contract farming, providing the farmer assurance that all his cotton crop will be bought, in 2000, with Tibetean farmers settled in Mundgod, in Uttara Kannada district.

The area they worked on reviving organic cotton farming was in H.D. Kote on the banks of the Kabini river in Karnataka. It’s a UNESCO-recognised site as part of the Nilgiris Biosphere where 65,000 acres was under cotton cultivation on the edge of the forest zone. When the Kabini dam was built, farmers were moved out of their agricultural land and had consequently turned to GM crops. “It takes about three years for a farm to get certified as organic,” says Mani. They have about 165 farmers in their network now. They don’t offer farmers a pre-fixed price, but a minimum support price; else, a market committee is formed that fixes the price in keeping with market rates.

Vijayalakshmi, a textile graduate, decided that the cotton they grew and ginned should be made into yardage; but that didn’t work because at that time there was no market for organic cotton; in fact perception in international markets was that Indian cotton was one of the most polluted. “That’s when the idea of value addition came in…weavers too have the same sad story as farmers. The weaver works for a wage, gets no recognition for his work, and so doesn’t want his children to continue in that profession,” she surmises. The couple built a 22-room studio with traditional jacquard looms. They also run a free-education school for the children of weavers.

“We finally felt the whole chain was ethical and included everybody — therefore, our brand ‘ethics’ and ‘us’,” she says. They decided to keep the Indian identity, make saris, but with a different look and feel to suit “occasional wear’ that the sari has become. They roped in designers to work with weavers.

Each of their products carries a tag with a picture of the weaver, his name, how long he took to weave it; they have over 50 weavers working with them now. Organic certified dyes have helped them break the colour palette of beige and brown; its more of jewel tones of reds, pinks, greens and blues.The use of mercerised cotton gives their saris, dupattas, scarves and stoles an almost silk-like lustrous finish.

Not a product, but a story

In 2009, Ethicus was finally launched, and boutiques all over the country were willing to stock their products under the original label. “We were sure we didn’t want to sell a product; we wanted to tell a story,” insists Vijayalakshmi. At the same time, they didn’t want people to buy in guilt, so they didn’t want to harp on the organic bit. Point out the high price of organic clothing, and Mani says, “Look at this way…you, as a customer, are paying a ‘conservation contribution’. We pay 10 per cent over what conventional cotton farmers get for their produce.” All the cotton can’t go into handlooms; so they started making machine-made linens, and knit baby garments, exported to Italy and Australia. Designers are invited to come and use the loom and work with them.

The farmer does multi-cropping and so has food for his family; they are now in a position to sell organic jaggery and ragi…a new area of organic food they are exploring. Of course there were many sceptics asking if such a rosy story was true…their clients were invited over to see for themselves everything from farm to weave. The couple saw another business opportunity and started the Eco Logic Tours!

To know more of their endeavour, check,

Cotton seed production and Child Labor: Various reports

Report on Gujarat Visit Oct 2011



Child labour and MNCs in cotton seed production


Danger Fields



child labor in hybrid cotton seed production in AP 2004

Dirty-Cotton-Report Final

Several reports on using child labor in hybrid cotton seed production.  National Child Rights Protection Commission has taken note of it and ordered an enquiry.  the report submitted by them identifies the problem and suggests remedial measures.  But no major improvement in the situation

Govt likely to withdraw cotton tax

, TNN | Apr 4, 2012, 12.46AM IST

NAGPUR: The market was abuzz on Tuesday with speculation that the 5% purchase tax imposed on cotton in the recent state budget announcements was withdrawn. However, there was no official confirmation. But sources in the government indicated that there was growing pressure from legislators and ministers from Vidarbha and Marathwada for removal of the tax. The tax indirectly hit the cultivators as traders passed on the burden to cotton growers.

There are indications that the matter may come up at the cabinet meeting on Wednesday and the government may give some relief by at least bringing the cotton purchase tax at par with other states at 2%. There were reports suggesting that the traders may not be levied the tax for transactions within the state but may have to pay if they want to take the cotton outside the state.

Social justice minister Shivajirao Moghe, who is from cotton belt of Yavatmal, told TOI that he had taken up cotton tax matter with chief minister Prithviraj Chavan who has sought some more time for a decision for sorting it out with the finance ministry.

Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti president Kishore Tiwari has criticized the Centre for curbs imposed on cotton exports and said the delaying tactics was only to favour the textile industry which wanted cheaper raw material domestically delinking cotton from global market. Cotton Federation chairman N P Hirani said in view of the poor arrivals of cotton crop in domestic market because of less than expected crop, the Union government may allow only 10 to 12 lakh bales of fresh exports. “The textile and garment sectors are under tremendous pressure from international competition and the government may find it hard to ignore their interests by freeing cotton exports,” he said.

Last Saturday, cotton traders and exporters, had resorted to an agitation at Pandharkawda in Yavatmal against the tax. Seeking its withdrawal, cotton growers as well traders also demanded removal of all restrictions on cotton exports. Currently the Union commerce ministry is only allowing external trade by the land route to neighbouring countries. It is learnt a meeting of group of union ministers to to review cotton exports on Tuesday was deferred.

Let farmers decide the price’: Mani Chinnaswamy, Apache Cotton

Author(s): Jyotika Sood
Issue: Jan 15, 2012
Mani Chinnaswamy’s contract farming model has prompted IIM graduates to study his Appachi formula. After all, it gives farmers the right to bargain the price of their produce with the buyer. Talking to Jyotika Sood, the entrepreneur shares the hurdles in the implementation of the formula and its potential to change farmers’ lives


Mani ChinnaswamyMani ChinnaswamyWhat makes your formula a novel contract farming model?

Appachi formula differs from conventional contract farming models, especially on the price front. We do not create uncertainty by fixing the price of the produce in advance. Our contract allows farmers to sell their commodity at the prevailing market rate. Though we have the first right to negotiate, farmers are free to auction off the produce in case of a disagreement. We motivate them to form self-help groups to enhance their bargaining power.

Our pricing mechanism usually does not disappoint them as it takes into account the labour put in by the farmer and his family. My company, Appachi Cotton, deals only in cotton because it is a family business, but alongside we encourage our farmers to grow millets, legumes and vegetables, which helps them meet their daily needs and expenses.

Another component of the formula is to ensure that farmers never go short of money and material throughout the cultivation period. The contract assures them easy availability of credit from banks, quality seeds, doorstep delivery of unadulterated fertilisers and pesticides at discounted rates, expert advice and field supervision.

We hear you have stopped facilitating farm credits.

I developed the formula with a vision that everyone who is part of the contract will fulfil their responsibilities. If a farmer takes a loan, he must repay it. It worked well for 10 years. But in 2006, during the assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, some political parties promised waiving off agricultural loans in their manifesto. This led to wilful default by farmers and a bitter end to the idea. To fill the void we started looking for ways to reduce cultivation cost. This made us switch from conventional to organic cotton in 2009. Farmers are always under fear and defensive, applying fertilisers and pesticides indiscriminately, thus increasing cultivation cost. They would sanitise the entire field at the sight of a single insect. There was a need to teach them when to pick up their pesticide guns.

Is organic cotton more profitable than the conventional cotton?

In agriculture, profit can be increased either by increasing the yield or by reducing the cultivation cost. Chemicals and technologies like Bt are pushing up the yield, but they are also increasing the cost of cultivation.

Farmers are organic by default. Through Appachi, we remove middlemen, passing the benefits directly to farmers. An increasing number of farmers are switching from conventional to organic cotton lately. Since the yield reduces during the conversion period, we offer them financial support to keep up their interest in organic cotton. We help them get organic certification.

What are the challenges before organic cotton?

No doubt Bt cotton poses the threat of contamination to organic cotton, but the biggest challenge is seed. All our seed banks have run out of traditional cotton varieties. Hardly any company or agriculture university is coming forward with seeds suitable for organic farming. The government and universities are promoting Bt crops, while people want safe organic crops.

What are the other endeavours of your company?

We have an integrated model for organic cotton farmers and weavers. At present, we have 165 farmers and 50 weavers. We make products like sarees and dress material under the brand name, Ethicus. We put our craftsperson’s name and picture on every piece he creates and mention the time it took to weave the fabric.

Insecticide usage on cotton in India 1999-2010 (Rs crores)

% Bt Cotton
cotton, Insecticide
Cotton fungicide
Cotton herbicide
Total Insecticides in Agrl.
% share of cotton
Total Pesticides in Agrl.

Cotton MSP, farmers’ suicides likely to dominate Maha session

PTI | 01:12 PM,Dec 11,2011

Nagpur, Dec 11 (PTI) The ongoing demand and agitation by farmers over hike in MSP for cotton and unabated suicides by farmers in Vidarbha region are likely to dominate the proceedings of the Winter Session of the Maharashtra Legislature, beginning in the vice capital here from tomorrow. Though the Congress-led Democratic Front (DF) government, citing the code of conduct in place for the municipal council elections, has not increased the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for cotton but has indicated to provide some relief by announcing financial assistance to the cotton growers from Vidarbha, Khandesh and Marathwada regions per hectare. Shiv Sena launched statewide agitation for better prices to the produce and its executive president Uddhav Thackeray had led the agitation in Vidarbha. Though Congress leaders, a majority of them cotton growers, have also mounted pressure on the ruling alliance but are waiting anxiously to hear from the Government on the floor of the House on the hike in MSP. BJP, along with Shetkari Sanghatana, is also on the warpath over the issue. Uddhav even announced that all Sena floor leaders will boycott the customary Tea party to be hosted by chief minister on the eve of commencement of the session. The issue of unabated suicides by farmers in Vidarbha region is also likely to haunt the government again. Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS), working for the cause of farmers, led by Kishore Tiwari has sought appointment with UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and has even met other central leaders to press for the demands including hike in cotton. The VJAS has contended that crop failure and inadequate price to the produce are pushing farmers to take the extreme step.