Farmers in Andhra Pradesh are left with no option but to go on a ‘crop holiday’

Devinder Sharma

There is something terribly going wrong with agriculture. While nearly 40,000 farmers in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir have defaulted on repayment to the State Bank of India alone to the tune of Rs 600-crore, hundreds of farmers in the rice bowl of Andhra Pradesh, comprising the fertile and irrigated East Godawari and West Godwari districts, have refused to cultivate paddy this year, declaring a ‘crop holiday’.

What may appear to be two completely disconnected events happening in two different geographical regions of the country is in reality a wake up call. Whether it is the northeast or the more productive northwest regions; whether it is Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu or Odisha; agriculture continues to be in the throes of what appears to be a perpetual crisis for survival. What is not realised is that it is actually a crisis of sustainability and economic viability.

It all began from the fertile konaseema region of East Godawari district in Andhra Pradesh where a small farmer Suryabhagwan owning six-acres of land voluntarily announced that he would prefer to work as a ‘coolie’ than to undertake paddy cultivation. Already under heavy debt and knowing that another season of paddy cultivation will only add to his indebtedness, his call for a ‘crop holiday’ soon reverberated. Within a few weeks, the idea of a ‘crop holiday’ in the ongoing kharif season spread like wildfire and more than 1 lakh hectares in the two irrigated districts today lies barren.

Andhra Pradesh is a paddy growing area. While production has been steadily on an upswing over the years, adequate market infrastructure for procurement has not been created. The result is that despite a very high production capacity there is little space for storage. When Chandrababu Naidu was the chief minister, I remember one of his statements asking farmers not to produce more rice in kharif season as he has no place to stock the surplus grain. I am therefore not surprised to learn that from the previous rabi season (2010-2011) alone, an estimated 50 lakh tonnes lying with farmers, is still to be purchased.

Much of the unsold stocks of paddy are stored with farmers in the two districts of East Godawari and West Godawari. Suryabhagwan therefore is absolutely right in deciding not to grow another crop of rice in kharif and be saddled with the additional harvest. This brings me to another popular thinking, being promoted by economists, policy makers and the private trade, that the government needs to withdraw from procurement and allow the private players to procure the grains. If the Andhra Pradesh government was to withdraw from paddy procurement, and knowing how private trade exploits the gullible farmers, I wouldn’t be surprised to find more and more seasons of ‘crop holidays’.

Like in Andhra Pradesh, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture announces procurement price for 25 crops every year but effectively procures only wheat and rice. Unlike Punjab and Haryana where the State agencies procure over 90 per cent of the grains flowing into the mandis, the Food Corporation of India has in other States outsourced its procurement operations. Such an arrangement has allowed farmers to be exploited by the private trade, and more often than not forces them into distress sale. Minimum Support Price (MSP) thereby loses its significance and farming becomes unviable. It is primarily because the farmer is unable to get a remunerative price for his produce that more than 40 per cent of the farmers, as per a NSSO survey, want to quit agriculture if given a choice.

Even in the frontline agricultural states of Punjab and Haryana, where massive quantities of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and ground water are used, farming has become economically unviable. Despite abundant irrigation and subsidised loan to farmers, if nearly 40,000 farmers have defaulted on repayment to just one bank — State Bank of India – to the tune of Rs 570 crore (HP and J&K have defaulted by Rs 30 crore only), it clearly is an indication that agriculture in the Green Revolution belt has lost its sheen. Farmers in Punjab and Haryana have certainly not opted for a ‘crop holiday’ but by defaulting the banks they too have made a powerful statement. What is still worse is that such an acute economic crisis is happening in a state that has always been considered to be the harbinger of rural prosperity.

Interestingly, the subsidised loan was being provided at an effective rate of 4 per cent despite the rate of interest for agriculture being 7 per cent. The State bank is now holding 400 compromise camps for farmers where a final settlement can be made. I am told the situation in other states is no different. The non-performing assets of the banks from agriculture are piling up. This is happening at a time when a recent NABARD study shows that banks are in reality charging 14 per cent interest (against the subsidised 7 per cent) by clubbing their extraneous expenses also as amount to be recovered from farmers.

The warning is loud and clear. The terrible agrarian crisis sweeping the country is the outcome of a continuous neglect and apathy. Over the years, agriculture has been deliberately pushed the downhill path. While the economic and scientific prescription to bail out the farming community invariably hinges on to providing improved and sophisticated technology, it is the declining incomes that is hitting the farm sector. The tragedy is that instead of providing more incomes into the hands of farmers, what is being offered is more credit which further adds on to farm indebtedness. No wonder, two-third of MNREGA workers are actually land owners. Clearly an indication that small farmers are unable to survive solely on agriculture.

Setting up yet another high-level committee is not the answer. What is needed is to provide farmers with an assured monthly take-home package. At a time when the monthly wages of government employees after the 6th pay commission have gone up by 150 per cent, monthly income of legislators and parliamentarians has risen by 200 to 400 per cent, education and health expenses have gone through the roof, and even the BPL families are getting the benefit of health insurance and PDS, it is only the farming community that has remained at the receiving end. What the farmers need desperately is a Farmers Income Guarantee Act that determines the monthly income package a farm family must receive. #

Farmers on a Holiday

D. Narasimha Reddy

This should be the news. But, as usual media gets it wrong. It says crop holiday. If farmers are on a holiday, so what? Farmers are also entitled to holiday. Modern economists would say our GDP will grow, with more people holidaying. But, this is disaster. What started off as a reaction at one of the protest meetings, over the tardy, or zero, procurement of grains by the government, this ‘unique’ protest is snowballing and is likely to gather momentum. It started with a few villages in ‘konaseema’, in Andhra Pradesh, and now is reportedly spreading to Krishna, Khammam, Prakasham and Guntur districts. It has also deepened in East and West Godavari districts. Rice bowl of India is on the boil.

Most people try to analyse this protest to the bones, and would usually conclude on ‘some reason as the reason for farmers declaring a holiday. But simply speaking, farmers are disgusted. They are disgusted that over years, every government has cheated them, in the name of MSP, procurement, market prices, etc. They are miffed that government does not think their ‘suicides’ as important. They are worried that government, in the form of Manmohan Singh, gives the slogan that yield should increase at any cost, which boils down to the meaning that ‘farmers are mere machines to produce more and more’. Year after year, for the past 40 years, including 2011, government again says that they would usher in second Green Revolution, and ensure more corporate profits. They are angry that government puts all its might to ensure ‘profits for the private companies’ and would say ‘markets will taken their own course’ when it comes to fair prices for their produce. They are shocked to see that a dealer in their midst can easily build palatial houses, own a car and run for politics, while they toil to give him margins year after year. They cannot stomach the fact that the balance sheets of seed, pesticide and fertilizers companies overshoots the graph, while they continue to remain as ‘dots’ on the GDP graph.

Protests by farmers have been in varied forms, including suicides. While suicides might have ruffled a few feathers, that effect did not last long. Even now, suicides are continuing and spreading to new areas. However, farmers suicides have lost their ‘news’ value. People are no longer shocked. Life is normal, about the ‘abrupt ending of life’. It is business as usual. Maybe, it is now to be coined ‘suicides as usual’. Now, the farmers have stumbled upon another potent weapon. If this spreads, it would create shortage of grains and hunger. Without food, everyone would be in trouble.

But, the likes of Manmohan Singh, Pranab Mukherjee and Sharad Pawar are not bothered. Pranab Mukherjee has gone to the extent of ‘filling’ the trust deficit of corporate honchos, explaining what they did, for what reasons, in a recent meeting. Sharad Pawar was worried and makes an enormous effort of writing letters to Chief Ministers, asking them not to interfere with the profiteering of seed companies. Manmohan Singh in usual self postures to the nation that they would not turn any stone, until unless ‘there is no alternative’ situation. All these three are not aware of farmers declaring holiday, and as a result lakhs of acres of paddy acres lying fallow. Farmer’s economy is in shambles.

It should surprise a normal Indian to know that godowns are overflowing with grains, even though food grain production has achieved only a small percentage of increase. However, this situation is not due current season of ‘low’ market prices. It is because of years of ‘low’ prices, negative balances and apathy of government. There is a huge trust deficit, to borrow the latest cliché. Instead of putting in place innovative CBMs (confidence building measures), as usual, Chief Minister, Ministers and officials blame everything but themselves. If anyone thinks this CM is hapless, one should compare it with his firmness in allotting lands to industries and his initiative in another ‘ring road’ around Hyderabad. History shows that ring roads around Hyderabad have fetched crores to everyone in the ruling class, in the past 15 years.

Just to answer any market pundits jumping into the discussion saying why should government pay farmers. In the mecca of markets, in USA, government pays more than 100 percent subsidies to farmers, whenever there is surplus agricultural production, in the name of soil conservation. This buyout should not burden the government more than Rs.200 crores. In comparison, governments did spend more than Rs.3,000 crores on outer ring road and about Rs.1400 crores to increase road connectivity to Hyderabad’s glam airport.

Governments, political leaders and parties being what they are, the ‘silence’ of the vast majority of otherwise ‘vocal’, influential non-producers, called consumers, is baffling. Maybe, they are sure that their food would anyway come from anywhere in the world, as their ‘purchasing power’ surpasses even the residents of US, Switzerland or Norway.

Ultimately, my lament is if the consumers or connoisseurs of Indian food and Indian agricultural products remain ‘silent’, even this unique, non-political instrument would be a failure. Such a failure would mean more suicides and more violence. If the ‘haves’ want democracy, it cannot be at the cost of ‘brutalisation of Indian agriculture’.

My appeal to all walkers in the KBR park, in Hyderabad, who walked alongside the present CM before, to walk into his chambers and ask him to start procuring grains from the farmers, off-load grain godowns by increasing grain distribution to the poor and hungry, ‘shut-out’ suggestions and letters from ‘corporate friendly’ Sharad Pawar and organize meetings with farmers to build their trust in the government, democracy, agriculture and life.

Crop Holiday in AP more news

 

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Meaning of a ‘crop holiday’ this kharif


Farmers over three lakh acres may not grow crops this kharif to protest against negative incomes. Yet, policymakers are unmoved.

Issues related to farmers do not generally get the same kind of attention as news related to food inflation. Take for example, the ‘crop holiday’ announced by farmers in Andhra Pradesh for this kharif season. Don’t think that this phenomenon will be confined to Andhra Pradesh. Those leading the ‘crop holiday’ campaign have begun to talk to their peers in Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, asking them to go on a partial crop holiday as a mark of protest against net negative incomes.

These farmers belong neither to the rain-fed areas nor the drought-prone regions. They belong to the water-rich districts of East and West Godavari, Krishna and Nellore. The reason for not growing kharif crops is: it has become unviable. The cost of production is far higher than the returns they get.

The extent of area under crop holiday is not insignificant. Farmers’ organisations have put it at three lakh acres! One may dismiss this, saying that it is just a fraction of the total arable land in the country. But when you convert acres into yields, it will certainly send a chill down your spine. At five tonnes an acre (two in kharif and three in rabi), the country is all set to lose 15 lakh tonnes this year!

If more farmers in Andhra Pradesh and other States join this new kind of protest, the extent of loss would be much higher and pose a serious threat to country’s food security. More than the loss itself, the desperation in the farming community poses a long-term challenge.

SPIRALLING COSTS

A farmer posed a simple but pertinent question to Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture recently. “Why should I bother about country’s food security, when my own financial security is not taken care of,” he asked.

And he had good reason to say this. While the cost of production for an acre of paddy is Rs 19,050, returns are only Rs 19,575. If you add rental of Rs 6,000 and managerial costs of Rs 2,000, farmers end up with huge losses. In the absence of its own assessment mechanism, the CACP (Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices) depends on State bodies to collect information that, generally, becomes obsolete by the time it calculates cost of cultivation. According to the Confederation of Indian Farmers’ Associations (CIFA), the data the Commission uses are three years old. The Commission used data of 2007-08 while calculating costs for 2010-11, resulting in a skewed picture.

As a result, instead of getting higher compensation to cover the increase in inflation and input costs, farmers end up incurring losses. Farmers are criticising the Government for not factoring in realistic changes, such as the steep increase in labour costs post NREGA.

During the peak of agricultural operations, labour costs could go up as high as Rs 350. And a 75-kg bag of paddy gives only Rs 700 income to farmers!

EXCESS RABI STOCKS

Overflowing stocks from the rabi crop have only added to their woes. Most farmers in the water-rich areas are saddled with 30 per cent of the produce from rabi still lying unsold. Asked whether permission to export will help them, they say they asked for it five months ago, when they were expecting a bumper crop. After dillydallying for so long, the Centre gave the permission only now.

The farmers would have been empowered with better bargaining capacity had the Government announced the same around the procurement season. “What’s the use announcing it now? It will only help exporters and traders,” a farmer says. Frustrated and disillusioned, farmers thought it best to skip a season rather than increase their debt and desperation. And that is why they are unwilling to withdraw their agitation. This has already had a cascading effect. Several thousand people who are directly and indirectly dependent on agriculture are not finding the jobs they get around this time. This, in fact, should have set off alarm bells. It, unfortunately, did not. It has not even acted as a pinprick to policymakers, both at the national and State levels.

IMMEDIATE EFFECTS

The problem deserves immediate attention, because it is not a problem that can wait. After suffering for several seasons, it occurred to the farmers that it makes sense (by not making losses) for them to skip a season. This mirrors a serious crisis in Indian agriculture. If the thinking in the water-rich areas is such, one can only imagine the plight of those farmers in rain-fed areas.

One can argue that this is just a protest and that farmers cannot afford to do this forever. Agreed. But this is a strong political statement by farmers, with serious implications for food security and employment in rural areas. This crisis is driving the youth away from agriculture and allied activity. You find almost no young people to carry out farming chores or to work in the fields. And this is certainly not going help the country as it braces to feed 140 crore people in 2026.
http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/article2235883.ece

Paddyy farmers in AP plan to grow capsicum

HYDERABAD, JUNE 29:

Farmers by and large never sit idle, even when they are protesting. Thousands of farmers in East and West Godavari, Krishna districts, who have declared a crop holiday to an extent of two lakh acres this kharif, are not the ones to waste time. While making their protest heard in the State capital, farmers are seriously contemplating life beyond, not just this kharif, but also paddy.

“It is time to reduce dependence and pressure on paddy,” Mr Trinadha Rao, a farmer in the water-rich East Godavari district, told Business Line.

With paddy yielding no encouraging returns, farmers have begun to look at alternative crops that could give them bankable incomes.

As their peers continued the novel protest by locking up the water distribution channels, a small team of 30 farmers had just completed a trip to Pune. They went there to study new models of farming that threw open lucrative vegetable markets to farmers.

To begin with, the farmers could build a couple of green houses this year. “We will break the beaten track and grow capsicum this year,” Mr Trinadha Rao, who also heads the local Water Users’ Association, said.

The team went to Pune on an invitation from WALAMTARI (Water and Land Management Training and Research Institute). After seeing the greenhouse-based vegetable farming, the farmers from Andhra Pradesh are convinced that it is time to change.

“We will try to convince our friends back home on the importance of the change,” Mr Rao who was on his trip back home, commented.

ALTERNATIVES

Mr Tirupathaiah, Director-General of WALMTARI, said it was time for the farmers and the Government to change their mindset. “People think that irrigated agriculture means cultivation of paddy. It, in fact, is not. We need to explore alternatives. We should go for irrigated dry crops such as maize and ragi. These crops have huge demand,” he said.

“High value floriculture too could be an option. By building poly houses, we can control water, temperature and humidity,” he said.

TAMIL NADU TRIP

WALAMTARI is planning to take another team to Tamil Nadu that had built extensive area under precision farming in order to face low availability of water. “We will lead a team in mid July,” he said

AP farmers declare crop holiday this kharif

K. V. KURMANATH

Mr N. Subba Rao, 73, of Achanta in West Godavari district was among the few farmers in the South who received a kit of IR-8 paddy seeds in 1967 for one acre.

He grew 40 bags that kharif, becoming a poster boy for the proponents of Green Revolution that had just begun in the country. The acreage grew to 2,000 acres in the following season, repeating the kharif performance.

This made Achanta a tourist spot for Parliament members and agriculture scientists, including those from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

The then Food and Agriculture Minister, Mr C. Subramaniam, who spearheaded Green Revolution from the Government side, too was proud of this village. Seventeen-years later, the village was again in the forefront to get IR-64 that was released to mark the silver jubilee year of IRRI.

RYTHU SANGHAM

This tiny village is hitting headlines again now, ahead of the 2011 kharif season, not for reporting high yields but for declaring a crop holiday.

The apolitical Rythu Sangham, which comprises about 3,500 farmers who sow on 4,500 acres, has taken the decision after failing to get returns on their investments.

“Kharifs have become a drag on us. We have been losing all the while. We are not even getting back our investments,” Mr Subba Rao told Business Line over phone.

“Cost of cultivation has doubled from Rs 10,000 in 2005 to Rs 20,000 an acre in 2010. With no better prospect in sight, we have decided not to grow paddy this year.”

Several other villages in East and West Godavari districts have taken a cue.

Some have passed similar resolutions, forcing the Government to look into the issue.

Reports suggest that Allavaram, Uppalaguptam, Munipalli, Gopavaram and Bheemanapally in East Godavari have passed resolutions in favour of crop holiday.

FCI STOCKS

With the godowns of Food Corporation India brimming with stocks, farmers in Andhra Pradesh are alleging that they are being forced to undersell their produce.

Mr P. Chengal Reddy, Secretary-General of Confederation of Indian Farmers’ Associations (CIFA), said the idea had caught the attention of farmers in all parts of the State.

“We have just heard that several villages in East Godavari have taken a similar oath. This actually reflects acute distress situation,” he said.

The CPI(M)-affiliated All-India Kisan Sabha, however, has taken a different view on the declaration of the crop holiday.

“There is no use in declaring a crop holiday. The Government announced crop holiday for tobacco but it hardly helped. The best way is to fight for remunerative prices,” said Mr Rama Rao of the sabha’s State unit.