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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.