Karnataka considering loan waiver for farmers

By Indo Asian News Service
Bangalore, Jan 25 (IANS) Karnataka Governor T.N. Chaturvedi Thursday said the state government was thinking of waiving loans obtained by farmers from cooperative institutions.

‘A comprehensive study is being made to decide the quantum of loans to be waived and to which category of farmers,’ Chaturvedi declared in his address to the winter session of the joint state legislature in the Vidhana Soudha here.
The government is set to mobilise resources for the loan waiver scheme from the revenue likely to accrue from the retrieval of encroached lands in and around the Karnataka capital and their disposal as per rules.
The state government had recently set up a special task force in the revenue department to recover the encroached lands, which have been identified by a joint legislature committee. It is estimated that about 18,000 acres of government land have been encroached over the years in and around the city.
‘My government has issued an ordinance Dec 11 prescribing imprisonment and fine for any one who unlawfully enters or occupies government land or creates forged documents on government lands or sells agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes without getting such land converted under the Karnataka Land Revenue Act, 1964,’ Chaturvedi told the members.
Expressing grave concern over the farmers’ suicides reported from various places in the state, the governor appealed to the farming community not to take such extreme step and assured them of his government’s commitment to protect their interests and fulfil their aspirations.
‘Karnataka is the first state in the country to provide agriculture loan to farmers at four percent. The new agriculture policy, announced recently, will provide permanent relief to farmers from most of the problems they are facing and improve their quality of life,’ Chaturvedi said.
Referring to the centre’s special package for the six districts in the state where high incidence of farmers’ suicides was reported, he said a cabinet sub-committee had been constituted to oversee its implementation.
‘Besides providing seeds by subsidising 75 percent of the cost to farmers during this fiscal (2006-07), my government is bringing a legislation to help farmers market their products directly to end users,’ he said.
The governor also announced his government was considering a ban on the manufacture and sale of arrack from April 1 to protect the life of common people.
Copyright Indo-Asian News Service

Maharashtra hampered by poor credit

Posted online: Wednesday, January 24, 2007 at 0039 hours IST

PUNE, JAN 23 : A large rural population outside the institutional field, regional disparities in credit flow, continued ineffective use of Kisan Credit Cards by co-operatives. Poor credit flow for marketing are hampering the credit delivery in Maharashtra.

Agricultural credit flow in the state is low as compared to high performing states such as Punjab, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Goa. “Around 45% of the population still remains outside institutional credit. Credit is just Rs 3,500 per hectare in Maharashtra, three times lower than Punjab and Haryana,” N Srinivasan, chief general manager, Nabard, Pune, said.

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Regional disparities in income have been sharp from Rs 1,700 per hectare in Marathwada to Rs 6,800 per hectare in Konkan. Actual financing is less than scales prescribed, he said. “Business levels in Maharashtra are well below than that of the other states. The number of deposit accounts per 100 households was just 216 compared to 936 in high performing states. Number of advances per 100 households in the state was 48 as compared to 86 in these states,” he said. Srinivasan was speaking at the state credit seminar 2007-08 held by Nabard to discuss the potential linked credit plan (PLP) projections for the state.

Nabard has prepared a total plan outlay of Rs 20,972 crore for 2007-08 as part of the Central package to double the flow of credit to agriculture over three years from 2004-05.

Srinivasan said the availability of the government subsidy on several investments in rural areas had a dampening effect on credit flow. “With schemes not making bank credit mandatory, there is no post investment monitoring of assets created out of subsidy. The leveraging effect of subsidy and its ability to generate larger assets with consequent impact on employment and incomes is lost on account of disconnect with the banking system,” he pointed out.

“Irrigation infrastructure needs attention from the state. Created storage through several irrigation projects has not been converted into realised irrigation demand. The last mile problems of setting up a distribution network have rendered the projects non-performing. There is a need to prioritise such projects that have created storage,” he said.

Death Along the Famished Road

Sonia Faleiro

The government hasn’t reached Vidarbha’s farmlands, but its poison has. Sonia Faleiro ventures into the hinterlaland to discover cataclysmic tales of deprivation and despair wreaked by Bt Cotton cultivation

Bunty Bhoyar’s screams singe the hot, dry air of Kosara village in Maharashtra’s Yavatmal district. The five-year-old in his torn shorts and T-shirt, mucus smeared across his face, body dusty from playing in the mud, cries himself into exhaustion as he awaits comfort his family can no longer offer him. His mother Lata, 25, is picking cotton; his brother Shubham, seven, is enjoying what may be his last days in primary school; his grandmother Gangubai, who cooks and cleans for the family, sits in the kitchen, stirring gruel for her grandson with a weary hand. On October 19, 2005, Bunty’s father, Lokeshwar Keshavrao Bhoyar, 30, committed suicide, jumping into the well, which for years, sullenly refused to provide water for his fields.

While Bhoyar may have jumped his debt to moneylenders, literally, his family is not as fortunate. Lata, an illiterate housewife, is now a daily wage labourer. She works ten-to-five, earning Rs 2 for every kilo cotton she picks. On a good day, she earns about Rs 120. When her husband died, she borrowed Rs 5,000 from the neighbours for his funeral. She is still unclear about how much he owes, but since his death, she also owes three months’ payment on the electricity (Rs 500), and annual land revenue tax (Rs 200). At night, exhausted and often hungry, she has a recurring nightmare: of moneylenders standing over her, mouths wide, hands outstretched. Their demands reach a crescendo, until the image is a blur, but for a distant well, its emptiness echoing with her husband’s screams.

For seven years in Maharashtra’s eastern Vidarbha region, which comprises 11 districts of which six produce cotton, farmers like Bhoyar have been committing suicide by hanging or drowning themselves, or consuming pesticides like Endosulfan. In these villages, the cries of a new widow are as commonplace as birdsong. From June 2 till November 25, 2005, there have been 136 suicides in Vidarbha. Yavatmal leads with 51, followed by Amravati, 30, Akola, 16 and Awashim, 10. “Pesticide is available in the remotest corner of Vidarbha,” says Nagpur-based journalist Jaideep Hardikar. “But if you want folic acid, you have to walk 50 km. The government hasn’t reached the people, but the poison has.”

The reasons for this despair are multiple, and have escalated over the years. One diseased crop or the misguided purchase of spurious seeds, for example, necessitates a loan. Only five percent of farmers are eligible for loans from cooperatives and banks, usually because of a previous default. The remainder are forced into the grip of private, often hostile moneylenders who extract approximately Rs 500 interest every four months on every Rs 1,000 borrowed. Once this loan is defaulted on — invariably the case in irrigation-starved Vidarbha — the farmer’s desperation for the sale of his cotton and soya bean increases. A fact the government isn’t unaware of. Yet, last year, the government paid the farmers in three instalments over a year from its date of purchase. This year, it’s not only paying less than the market price, it is deducting last year’s loans from the sale price.

While soya bean is harvested and sold in one lot in October-November, cotton pickings occur in several lots from October to February. Unless payment is made immediately, the farmer is unable to pay even the Rs 25 a day to daily wage labourers to help him harvest his crop. “In a normal cycle, the farmer picks his first lot, sells it, and uses the money to pay the previous year’s debt and fund the pickings that follow,” explains Shreenivas V. Khandewale, director, RS Ruikar Institute of Labour and Socio-Cultural Studies, Nagpur. “If the government takes all the cotton and doesn’t pay up to next June, what will the farmer do?”

This year has been the worst for Vidarbha’s farmers since the first farmer’s suicide seven years ago. In 2004, up to 80 percent of cotton growers harvested BT, genetically modified seeds produced by a company called Monsanto. Recalls Hardikar, “When actor Nana Patekar, the brand ambassador of Monsanto, toured this region last year to promote BT, his public meetings had a huge impact. Farmers went for BT in a big way. But it boomeranged badly.”

The seeds, with a starting price of Rs 1,600 (the hybrid variety cost Rs 450 a packet), have demonstrated no sustainability in the parched environment of Vidarbha. This year, the fungal infection Lal Rog struck the fields. Stretches of land in Yavatmal appear a hazy crimson in the distance. From close quarters, the withered cotton, branches red in colour, make for an eerie sight. In the shadow of each failed harvest, stands an entire family, emaciated and hungry. “Monsanto’s claim that a test application would involve minimum pesticides and maximum yield has proved fatal,” says Kishore Tiwari, president, Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti.

The government’s role in this gruesome charade is glaring. From November 12, it began a crackdown on unlicenced moneylenders, arresting 150 in a week. This has only increased the pressure on farmers faced with a failed crop. Says Tiwari, “After 2000, moneylenders became traders, loaning seeds and fertilisers. In return, they would take the crop at a downgraded price. So the farmers faced huge losses. But without them, the farmers have no recourse. The government won’t give them money, but it gives vehicle loans even to defaulting farmers, because it has a tie-up with the companies.”

The per quintal price of cotton has also been reduced by the government by Rs 500, and on an average, a farmer whose cotton subscribes to the standard of less that eight percent moisture, receives between Rs 1,700 — Rs 1,980 per quintal. Further, according to a Water Regulatory Bill passed by the Maharashtra Assembly this year, farmers must pay Rs 580 per acre for water every month.

A farmer, with up to 15 acres of land, earns approximately Rs 10,000 for a year’s toil. With this amount, he must feed his family, pay for his children’s education, save for their wedding, and purchase the increasingly expensive inputs for his land. An import duty of only 10 percent has led to the flooding of the Indian market with imported cotton. Combined with decreased subsidies and spiralling prices of inputs, it appears that the government is turning the screw. “Families are starving, committing suicide,” says Tiwari. “But not one family has been rehabilitated. It is a blot on our so-called progressive society.”

Sushila Tulsiram Aswale is 35; but as she stares at her hands slowly sifting grain in a small steel bowl, she could be mistaken for the grandmother of Mangesh, 19, and Vinod, 15. On September 9, Aswale’s husband, Tulsiram Maruti, 45, uncorked a bottle of pesticide, and poured a quarter capful of the expensive poison down his throat. After her husband’s suicide, Vinod continued his schooling. But Mangesh, who had left his education earlier to become a daily wage labourer, earning Rs 45 a day, was forced to harvest the five acres of the family land as his first step towards repaying a bitter inheritance of Rs 90,000 in debt.

When five bags of seeds produced four quintal of cotton after a year’s work, Mangesh began to feel as cornered as his father had in the days leading to his suicide. “I don’t even know about my father’s debts. I was never interested in farming. And now, I have the tension of feeding my family.” Although Mangesh has picked the cotton, he is yet to sell it.

Like him, an increasing number of farmers are hopeful that the government will augment its rates and are hence biding their time. If he doesn’t wait, and sells for the current rate of Rs 1,900 per quintal, Mang
esh will receive Rs 7,600 to feed his family and maintain his land for the next 12 months. Living on debt so far, the family requires between Rs 2,500 — 3,000 a month to feed itself. “What will we eat?” Mangesh asks, in despair.

The long-term effect of this institutional impoverishment is reflected in the physical deterioration of families like the Aswales and Bhoyars. Since they earn less, they eat less. In every family, the adults take turns to fast, one day each week, to stretch their limited supplies. As habitual debtors, they live in fear of their land being seized by moneylenders. It isn’t unusual for a small plot of land being cultivated by four brothers on an annual rotation. Children abandon their education, and with it the chance of a better life. Sons follow in their father’s ill-fated footsteps. Daughters tend the house, worried into sickness that their dowry, which must be no less than Rs 1 lakh, and the cost of their wedding, at Rs 60,000 upwards, is escalating their parents’ trauma.

“There are families whose girls are unmarried at 24,” says Hardikar, “when in these villages, the maximum age for marriage is 20, maybe 22. Now they’ll remain unmarried.”

On November 4, 19-year-old Neeta Pundalikrao Bhopat, who was studying for her BA, committed suicide. In her suicide note, she wrote, “My family can’t make even a thousand rupees a month. And I have two younger sisters. My parents can’t bear the burden of our marriages when we don’t have enough to eat. So, I am ending my life. Nobody should be blamed for it.”

Women, without doubt, are among the worst affected. Since her husband Sanjay Yadav Jeddevar, 28, committed suicide on November 11, Jyoti is looking after her 11-month-old daughter and one-and-a-half-year-old son with the help of her mother-in-law Sumanbai, 60. The two women are working to repay three loans of over Rs 1 lakh that Sanjay had borrowed from a moneylender, a women’s society and a state bank. After her husband commits suicide, if the children are young, the widow, who may even be illiterate, becomes the sole wage earner, and is responsible for the repayment of all debts.

Since the entire farming community is in a similar cycle of poverty and debt, the widow receives no help from relatives or villagers. “If her family helps her out with food, they will go hungry. Everyone has bought BT this year, and his or her crops have Lal Rog. They may help later in getting the children married by searching for prospective partners, but they won’t give money,” says Vilas Bhongade, a farmer’s activist partnering NGO CRY, in Vidarbha.

In Kosara village itself, an estimated 100 of 1,500 people are living on loan. With two suicides in the last month, farmer Vijayanand Namdev Gowri has this explanation to offer as to why some give up: “Some farmers know there’s no hope, while others keep hoping. But the debts keep increasing, and soon we will all have to make this decision.” Santosh Shamraoji Martawar, 28, of Sutra village became the head of the family after his father drowned himself on September 9. His body was found two days later. Two failed harvests, and harassment from moneylenders, to whom he owned approximately Rs 30,000, prompted his decision. Martawar says, “I would tell him repeatedly that it wasn’t a lot of money, and that we would repay it. But he hated being in debt. For him, Rs 30,000 was too much money.”

Government compensation regulations haven’t been implemented to the advantage of the farmer either. A family has to fulfil 42 conditions, ranging from possession of a Below Poverty Line ration card to the loan having been taken from a bank or cooperative, to qualify for the Rs 1 lakh compensation given for a suicide attributed to crop failure. As a result, until November 2005, only 168 families had received compensation. Each receives Rs 30,000 in cash, while Rs 70,000 is placed in a fixed deposit. In a community without a tradition of remarriage, a widow is therefore sentenced to a lifetime of working the fields. According to activist Prajwale Tatte, “Women tell me that each evening, they stand at the door terrified that their husband may not return.” On November 1, seven years after her husband committed suicide, Meerabai Hatti Chavan of Ambezari village, Yavatmal, swallowed pesticide. Her four children must now take on the burden that their parents couldn’t.

Bharti Kishore Gowri, 30, has three daughters; Poonam, 10; Manisha, seven, and Sonu, two. Her husband Kishore Namdev Gowri consumed pesticide, three days before Diwali. The family had had no plans to celebrate the festival. Like everyone else in Kosara village, the Gowris had debts and a poor harvest — their 4.5 acres had yielded no cotton, and only one quintal of soya beans. “Karz, karz, karz,” says Gowri, were the only words her husband muttered, with increasing helplessness, in the days before he died. On October 29, a few hours after Bharti had left to work on the fields, Kishore bought pesticide from the village shop and while walking down the road to his hut, swallowed some. Gowri’s elder daughters are in school; she works in the fields earning Rs 30 daily, while her mother-in-law tends to the youngest daughter. “I’ll educate my children for as long as possible,” says Bharti. “I have over Rs 50,000 in debt, and one day I’ll have to marry off my girls. But I can’t think about these things now.”

As villages resound with cries of desperation and grief, a family in Yavatmal’s Telang Takari village has no tears left to shed. In 1997, when Ramdas Ambarwar consumed pesticide, he became the first farmer in Vidarbha to commit suicide over an inability to repay his debts. Ambarwar left behind his wife, mother, and four daughters. Perhaps because Ambarwar was the first victim of what would spiral into a phenomenon, and the Sarpanch of the village as well as a graduate, Chief Minister Narayan Rane visited his family and promised immediate compensation.

In 1998, as a result of Ambarwar’s suicide, a government resolution was passed assuring the waiver of bank loans, free education for daughters, compensation of Rs 1 lakh, and free agricultural inputs for three years to similarly bereaved families. The resolution, scoffs Tiwari, was never implemented.

Ambarwar’s wife Saraswati tends the 12 acres of fields, while her mother-in-law stays home with the children. Her debts have slowly accrued. She borrowed money first to marry off her eldest daughter Sushma, 22, then to pay for medicines for her second child Jaishree, who died at 18. While Manjusha, 15, still remains to be married, there are also piling medical bills for the treatment of a yet unidentifiable ailment that Meenakshi, 19, suffers from.

As they slowly walk in the same circle of crop failure and debt that their father felt strangulated by, the girls’ misery is tinged with an unwelcome déjà vu. “His death didn’t make matters better for anyone, only worse,” says Manjusha. “The Rs 1 lakh was spent repaying old debts. And now my mother will spend the rest of her life repaying the new ones.”

Tehelka, December 17, 2005.

Photos: (Late Ramdas Ambarwar’s mother, and daughters Manjusha and Meenakshi; Lata Bhoyar with sons Shubham and Bunty; Farmer at cotton yard) by Sonia Faleiro.

:: posted by Sonia Faleiro, 6:13 PM

Suicidal tendency among the Indian farmers: How much we know about it



India is considered as a fast moving economy with good potentials in human development and massive industrial advancement. Despite this economic achievement, desperate farmers in some region s of the country are committing suicide with the hope of getting relief from their enormous debt and ill-fated life. It’s gradually turning into an epidemic in India, where farmers find themselves trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty with frequent drought and but on the other hand the outside world sees India as the next Asian Tiger.

Since 1997, more than 25,000 farmers have committed suicide across the country, many consuming the chemical that was supposed to make their crops more productive. Machinery, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and hybrid seeds , all of which originated in the West, on the contrary spell disaster here rather than prosperity as Indian farmers witness the other side of globalization very closely. The tragedy unfolds largely from crop failure, drought, pests, and pesticides that small farmers don’t have the means to face. The tendency is higher in Warangal District of Andhra Pradesh which is a suicide belt consisting districts of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Apart from this region, Royalaseema, Anantapur, Vidarbha area in East Maharashtra and in certain other districts in northern Karnataka also face the tragedy.

The government of India has taken decisions on macro-economic policies, approved plans for big dams, ports and roads, established Social Economic Zones, cut taxes on computer accessories, and undertaken big development projects. But these farmers got very little benefit from the government , as for they do not get what they actually need and deserve. The modest list of government’s response includes free electricity for agriculture, waiver of electricity dues and Rs.150, 000 as financial assistance for the relatives of the farmers who committed suicide in 2006 is in no way to redress the problems of the farmers.

Government support price for the farmers is too low; a recent study done by the Government of Andhra Pradesh reported that more than 55 percent of the farmers are not getting the ‘Minimum Support Price’. For instance, In Anantapur district, about 90% of the holdings are small and marginal. They are under immense pressure owing to the vagaries of market and non-institutional forces that control credit and output. Most of the farmers are very much tied in the hands of the traders and middlemen who often take advantage of their poverty and desperation. This depresses the price that farmers should get for their output. Additionally, cost of cultivation has increased manifold since 1990s. In 2006, the government-sponsored cotton marketing federation purchased 13, 00,000 quintals of raw cotton from its 100-odd procurement centres, while the private traders have purchased 68,00,000 quintals till December 31. On the other hand, farmers in the region have produced over 220,00,000 raw cotton only in 2006. Poor farmers sometimes look for a helping hand from the agricultural or commercial banks; but these institutions give loan at very high interest rates and ask for collateral, which the farmers fail to produce.

Several non-governmental organizations including banks, research centers are trying to implement strategies aiming at increasing these farmers’ income by 3 to 4 times through better co-ordination and synergizing the available resources. They through several studies found out that the government apathy, the absence of a safety net for farmers, lack of finance and lack of access to information related to agriculture are the major causes for the desperate condition of farmers.

Less expensive, lower-risk organic farming methods might offer a solution for the cotton-growing crisis in India. But without a change in agriculture policy and practices, thousands more Indian farmers are likely to continue to take their own lives.

‘Fastest growing free market democracy’ a slogan that the Indians use to glorify them is not implacable for most of the Indians; 44% of the population still lives below the international standard of $1 per day, and as many as 86% live below $2 per day. It is probably necessary for the policy makers to go into the depth of the problem with an open mind and search for a genuine solution. More public and private investments in the rural areas along with introduction of micro-credit could be considered as a long term solution. Lowering interest rates will also be important to make cheaper credit available. Side by side, the government should take steps to make fertilizer, pesticide and seeds easily available to the poor and really deserving farmers. Free counseling to handle the problems and educating the farmers in modern methods of cultivation would definitely restore confidence among the farmers, which in turn would reduce the frustration among them.

The cotton farmers nightmare



For weeks, Lakshman Gadwe (65) watched helplessly as his cotton crop was ravaged by pests. He could not afford to buy pesticides to salvage his crop. When he finally bought a bottle of the potent chemical, he did not use it to save his crop. He swallowed it and took his life.

After spending almost Rs 70,000 on his land holding of 28 acres his returns were less than Rs 30,000. His crop yield was 20 per cent of the normal crop. “Since the cooperative bank loan did not cover the costs, he had borrowed from money lenders and relatives. To repay the debts, he forced to sell the land that he worked so hard to buy,” says his son Prakash, a resident of Januna in Nandgaon taluka of Amravati district.

With a massive crop loss in the last year, 82 suicides by farmers were reported in the state. Sixty of these were in the Vidarbha region, where more than half the crop was ravaged by unseasonal rains and hail during the harvest season. Attributing most of the deaths to extraneous factors like “family problems”, the state government has given monetary compensation to only 10 of the victims’ families.

While the state government nitpicks over doling out compensation, defects underlying the agricultural economy, which push farmers to the edge, say observers. By attributing the crisis to a ‘natural calamity’, the government has conveniently shrugged off responsibility for its failure to tackle the real problems – meagre bank credit, reliance on moneylenders, faulty agricultural practices and exploitation by traders.

Marginal support from the mainstream banking sector has led to an overweaning dependence on money lenders. According to estimates of the Vidarbha Shekari Janandolan Samiti, banks lend only 10 per cent of Vidarbha’s credit requirements. “Banks favour big farmers. Others are forced to rely on the money lenders, who charge interest ranging from 60 to 120 per cent per year. In addition, some people have to mortgage their land or house,” says Dilip Ikhad, a marginal farmer from Anjangaon Bari in Amravati district.

According to farmers, the amount disbursed by the ban does not even cover half the cost of agricultural inputs like seeds, fertilisers and labour. “this has resulted in unscientific agricultural practices,” says B.T. Talhande, joint director of agriculture, Amravati.

Unsustainable agriculture has made the crop more vulnerable to natural calamities like pest attacks and climatic variations. “During the beginning of the monsonn when the rains are essential for germination, the rainfall was scanty. Then, during the harvesting season for jowar, unseasonal rain destroyed the crop. Due to the humidity, the pests multiplied, destroying the cotton crop,” Mr Talhande explains.

The government provides farmers with little buffer from such calamities. The crop insurance scheme, designed to compensate farmers in the event of crop loss has failed. This, in a region which relies almost entirely on the monsoons. Only 10 per cent of the land here is under irrigation, as compared to the national figure of 34 per cent.

The crop insurance scheme covers only the small sections that gets bank credit. Narrowing its reach even further is the fact that only four crops – jowar, tur, soyabean and groundnut – are insured. Cotton, the main cash crop here, is not included. Moreover, bank officials point out that the state government’s method of assessing crop loss is totally skewed. Instead of assessing crop loss at the village level, inquiries are made at the taluka office about the general productivity. Despite widespread damage in the last season, the state government has not yet disbursed insurance claims.

Profitability has been further lowered by the exploitative pricing. A sharp increase in input prices has made it almost impossible for farmers to make ends meet. “while the costs of inputs like seeds and fertiliser have been soaring every year, the market prices, controlled by the traders cartel, have more or less remained constant. Is it too much to ask for a fair price for our produce?” asks N.B. Gavalkar, a farmer from Dahegaon in Wardha district.

The state government’s monopoly cotton procurement scheme was designed ot guarantee cotton growers a fair price for their produce. Yet, many marginal farmers sell their cotton to traders at prices lower than the cotton federation. “It costs more to transport the cotton to the federation. There, you have to wait in queue for days. Besides, we have to pay off our loans quickly. Cheques from the federation take weeks to arrive,” says Dilip Ikhad.

Falling yields have also reduced profit margins. “Yields have declined owing to monoculture and soil imbalance. People have been using only urea, which is the cheapest fertiliser. As a result, there is less of potash and phosphorus in the soil. Grwoing pest resistance has also resulted in an overuse of pesticides. Biofertilisers and multiple cropping must be introduced,” says Yavatmal district collector Rajeev Jalota.

The unregulated introduction of new technologies has thrown up its own set of problems. “after the green revolution, farmers have started using hybrid seeds in the quest for greater yields. These are more expensive and require more inputs like fertilisers, pesticides and irrigation. They are also more vulnerable to pest attacks. It’s a vicious cycle where you shell out more in the hope that you will get more,” points out Suryapal Chavan, from the Kisan Sabha in Nandgaon.

The monsoon does not promise to wash away these problems. The tragedy of Gadwe and score like him shows that agriculture requires more than just rain.

1 July 1998, The Times of India, Mumbai

It ain't only about rain

The monsoon, in Vidarbha at least, has washed away an enduring myth. “The age old notion of farmers jumping with glee when the first monsoon showers fall is now merely a delusion confined to primary school text books. The reality here is quite different,” says Suryapal Chavan from Nandgaon taluka in Amravati.
Extensive damage to the cotton and jowar crop in this region last year due to unseasonal rains, hail storms and a pest attack shattered the local economy, leading to 60 people committing suicide.
“Most farmers here are in a peculiar dilemma. While they want to make up for the previous year’s losses, they are unable to find the money for ploughing, preparing and sowing their fields. The majority have not yet begun work on their lands,” Mr Chavan explains. This dilemma has led to other forms of deprivation which have been overshadowed by the public attention directed towards the dramatic suicides in Vidarbha.
Climatic changes were merely the last straw that exposed the real, deep-rooted problems of the rural economy in this area. These include the shrinking bank credit, heavy dependence on money lenders, unscientific agricultural practices and the vice-like grip that local traders have on the produce market. With the government turning a blind eye to these issues, the coming kharif season does not augur well for farmers here who have no money to invest in their fields.
Left with no other choice, several land owners have left their fields fallow. They are working on others’ fields to try and scrape together enough to survive. “The rains have just arrived and I should be working on my land. But that may not be possible this year,” says Kausalya Pusam, a resident of Kotha Veni village in Kalam taluka of Yavatmal.
After slogging it out in the fields, she does not want to be paid in cash. “Seeds would be a better option. At least our land will not lie fallow in the coming season,” says Kausalya, whose family owns five acres.
Chief minister Manohar Joshi visited Kausalya’s village to hand over a cheque of Rs 1 lakh to the family of a suicide victim. “But he left in his helicopter immediately after, without bothering to speak to anyone else,” complains Chabbulal Jaiswal, Kausalya’s employer.

While Kausalya’s family was able to hold on to its land, several others were forced to sell off their agricultural properties to pay off their debts. Gajanan Bhomle from Waiphad village in Wardha sold off his two-acre plot to repay his loans amounting to Rs 80,000 borrowed for crops, constructing a well and to conduct his sister’s wedding.
“Now I look for work in others’ fields. The daily wage rate for agricultural labour has reduced from Rs 50 to Rs 35 for men and from Rs 35 to Rs 20 for women. Employers cannot afford to pay the full wages. You either take it or leave. There are many others looking for work,” says Gajanan.
While marginal and small farmers are in most distress, those with medium to large sized holdings are also finding it difficult this kharif season. Says Vijay Kuldhariya, the sarpanch of Dahegaon village in Wardha, “I have 45 acres of land. But I have prepared only 10 acres for sowing. The banks will not give me money to cultivate the rest as I was unable to repay my previous loans. If I am in such a quandary, can you imagine the plight of the smaller farmers?”
Even those who have managed to sow their fields are using second generation seeds, whose yields are far lower than the hybrid variety. Shops selling farm products are hardly doing any business. “Last year, I sold goods worth Rs 80,000 in the week after the first monsoon shower. But this year, I have not even sold one item,” says Dinesh Kothari who owns a shop in Waiphad village of Wardha.
In a bid to bail out the cultivators from this agricultural crisis, the state government hurriedly announced certain fire-fighting measures. The chief minister promised to provide seeds worth Rs 1,000 to farmers. Interest on bank loans are proposed to be waived so that short term crop loans can be extended to the medium term. This will make defaulting farmers eligible for bank credit this season.
“Of what use are these waivers?” asks Ashok Dhavale from the Maharashtra Kisan Sabha. “Only a few big farmers actually have access to bank credit. The rest rely on moneylenders who charge interest ranging from 60 to 120 per cent.”
Even the few who may benefit from the waivers are impatient. “The banks are waiting for written orders from Mantralaya before issuing new loans. By the time the bureaucracy get moving, the rains will have gone,” says Vijay. Adds Dilip Madhukar Ikhad from Anjangaon Bari village in Amravati, “I will have to go back to moneylenders who may threaten to take our land. They cut our throats with love.”
Until the government starts showing its ‘love’ for farmers, who constitute 61 per cent of the state’s work force, they look forward to little besides the tyranny of debt.
3 July 1998, The Times of India, Mumbai

Alcoholism also a cause of farmers' suicide


Mumbai, January 22, 2007
In a shocking revelation, a group of journalism students on a study tour of Vidharba district, plagued by farmers’ suicides, have come to a conclusion that besides indebtedness, another precipitating factor for their tendency to commit suicide is alcoholism, which has affected even minors in a big way.

The students of the Department of Journalism and Communication of the University of Mumbai, recently visited some of these villages to understand the social and political structure of the place and their problems.

Mr Sanjay Ranade, veteran journalist and head of the department, explained that every village had a unique reason for farmers committing suicide. After going to Waifad, Dorli and Lonsavli, the most glaring problem of indebtedness could not be doubted. The other reasons were “alcohol” and “lack of responsibility.”

“The basic problem of the people there is alcohol. Even though it is banned in Wardha that boasts of adhering to the principles of great leaders like Gandhiji and Vinoba Bhave, the alcohol is made in every house-hold.

More than a 1000 house-holds are involved in distilling and fermenting illicit liquor here. In fact, we saw boys aged 12 and 14 moving around in a drunken state,” Sayyed Salman Abbas, a student told UNI here.

“They have become habituated to taking loans. One of the villagers who had recently committed suicide had a loan of Rs 1,25,000 on his head. He took further loans and when he couldn’t repay, committed suicide,” he said.

It is important to note that according to the State Government, of the 777 suicides in 2006, seven per cent were in Wardha district.

Overall, 93 per cent suicides were a result of indebtedness while 28 per cent were due to addiction. In fact, seven more suicides have already been recorded this year.